Complaint about Longe tossed by board of ethics
By David Hohendorf
An ethics violation complaint filed in mid-November against city commissioner and former mayor Therese Longe was dismissed by the Birmingham Board of Ethics on Tuesday December 19, under operating rules for the panel that allow for a summary decision when the complaint fails to demonstrate any violation of the city code of ethics and lacks material facts to support the complaint.
The complaint was filed by Birmingham resident Paul Reagan, a friend and associate of city commissioner Brad Host, whose actions as a city commissioner were at the center of the complaint. Reagan, considered by some to be a behind-the-scene player of sorts when it comes to city politics, claimed in his complaint that Longe, while she was nearing the end of her term as mayor in 2023, had violated city ethics rules with her answers to questions about Host from Downtown Newsmagazine relative to Host's violation of a board of ethics earlier opinion concerning proper behavior of city officials.
The article, which Reagan labeled as inaccurate, “offensive” and “derogatory,” was published at the end of October 2023 and later amended in November by the publication. The general thrust of the article was based on email correspondence from city manager Jana Ecker to Host advising him that a recent social media posting he made appeared to violate a May ethics panel decision about Host's past behavior, issued in response to a request for an advisory opinion filed by former city manager Tom Markus. Ecker's email, a copy of which was obtained by Downtown Newsmagazine, was originally sent to all city commissioners and city department heads.
Reagan's complaint, the narrative of which ran six pages, accused Longe of disrespectful public comment, inflammatory conjecture and comments that were threatening and cast the city in a bad light.
At the Tuesday meeting of the board of ethics, chairperson James Robb noted that as part of the city's ethics panel rules for operation there were two rules which allowed for a complaint to be dismissed by the board without a formal hearing if on the face of the complaint it was apparent that there was no violation of city ethics rules. Robb made a motion to dismiss the complaint which allowed the board to discuss the issue.
Robb cited that there was no lack of integrity on the part of the mayor; no government decision was made outside of a city commission meeting; there was nothing disrespectful or scandalous in Longe's comments; and the mayor's comments were opinions and “known facts” – all items to be considered when attempting to assess the validity of the ethics complaint that she had undermined the reputation of the city. The comments and opinions of Longe, “as presiding officer” of the city commission, were protected by the Constitution, Robb added.
Following discussion with board members John Schrot and Michael Oakley, the board of ethics voted unanimously to dismiss the Reagan complaint.