Resident files ethics complaint against Baller

July 31, 2020

Birmingham resident Donna Klein filed an ethics ordinance complaint against city commissioner Clinton Baller on Monday, July 27, alleging he libeled her in a newsletter he sends out and on social media.

Klein, who is a neighborhood “lead,” or local administrator, on the NextDoor site, said Baller publicly complained in a newsletter he sends out that he had been banned from the site because of Klein. Klein asserted in her complaint she has no authority to ban anyone, and that only NextDoor can ban an individual or group from its site.

 Klein stated in her complaint to the city that in late June a friend alerted her that “to his horror, commissioner Clinton Baller had published outrageous gossip about me in his official newsletter… I found that Baller had held me up to ridicule to my neighbors, with a completely twisted narrative with no relevance to city business, and signed it with his title. Even if the facts had been accurate, a Birmingham City Commissioner has no right to bring his private grievances into an official newsletter to harass a private citizen.”

She further explained in her complaint, “I did nothing wrong, nor did not throw Baller off the site, nor could I if I wanted to. That's not how it works. If Baller was thrown off the site, it was for violating site terms of use.”

She said NextDoor is a hyperlocal social media site for close neighbors using real identities, and it has defined terms of use, revolving around “Be Helpful Not Hurtful.”

The site has a two-layer moderation system, with volunteer local moderators, known as leads, to monitor comments, and NextDoor corporate employees who control accounts.

“As a City Commissioner, (Baller) is bound by the Ethics Ordinance to respect the privacy of all citizens and to use excellent, honest judgement. His ridicule of me shows complete disregard for accuracy and respect for privacy in his desire to sway public opinion. However, I did nothing wrong whatsoever and some of his comments are pure libel,” Klein stated in her complaint.

She noted that Baller not only allegedly libeled her through his newsletter, but through his public and personal Facebook pages, where people who do not know her commented about her.

The city of Birmingham has written policies of conduct for public figures, including city commissioners. Among the policies, it is written that “each city official, employee, or advisor must earn and honor the public trust by integrity and conduct.”

Further sections state, “All city officials and employees must avoid conflicts between their private interests and the public interest. Public officials and employees must: Be independent, impartial, and responsible to the people.”

Under responsibilities of public office, it states, “City officials and employees must not exceed their authority; their official and private affairs should be above reproach; All city officials and employees shall safeguard public confidence by being honest, fair and respectful of all persons and property with whom they have contact avoiding conduct which may tend to undermine respect for city officials and employees and for the city as an institution.”

The city of Birmingham has a three-member ethics board. This complaint will be forwarded to the ethics board which will schedule a public hearing.

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