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Therese Longe subject of ethics complaint

By Lisa Brody


Paul Reagan, a friend and associate of Birmingham city commissioner Brad Host, has filed an ethics complaint against city commissioner and former mayor Therese Longe, based on comments attributed to her in an article first published October 27 by Downtown Newsmagazine regarding Host's violation of an opinion of the Birmingham Ethics Board relative to proper behavior of city officials.


Reagan, of Birmingham, alleges in his complaint, dated November 14, that Longe displayed disrespectful public conduct by speaking to Downtown “in the final weeks of an election” – when both Host and Longe were running for re-election unopposed – and commenting on email communication between Birmingham City Manager Jana Ecker and Host over a posted message on social media which could be inferred to encourage a resident to take legal action against the city.


In an email response to Host from Ecker which was obtained by Downtown Newsmagazine, Ecker wrote, “As noted in the Advisory Opinion that was issued by the Board of Ethics on May 15, 2023 regarding a similar comment made by you on social media in relation to the Planning Board, the City’s Code of Ethics requires public officials to safeguard public confidence by being honest, fair, and respectful. Public officials must avoid conduct that may tend to undermine respect for City officials and employees and for the City as an institution. Further, the Code of Ethics states that City officials must avoid any action which might result in, or create the appearance of adversely affecting the confidence of the public or the integrity of the City government.


“Your most recent statement 'Well stated Frank!' regarding a resident’s displeasure with the Board of Zoning Appeals and the City is very similar in nature to the comment at issue before the Board of Ethics in May. While you may have been trying to be supportive of a resident, the Board of Ethics has previously held that public officials are obligated to be aware that their words can be misinterpreted or misread.”


Host responded that he disagreed with both her premise and recommendation to retract or clarify his statement.


Reagan's ethics complaint asserts that Longe herself has violated the public trust as public officials must “Make governmental decisions and policy in the proper governmental channels,” and that by speaking to the press, she is “Affecting adversely the confidence of the public or the integrity of the city government,” ironically, issues Host has been warned of by Ecker and in a previous ethics board opinion.


Taking it further, Reagan accuses Longe and Ecker of “coordinating” an attack on Host, rather than recognizing the actions that Host has undertaken that may have been inappropriate. Reagan said Longe in her comments “does not make clear whether her incendiary commentary represents personal thoughts or those of the city government. In fact, because the article cites an email by the city manager, it can be inferred that this attack on Commissioner Host is being coordinated.”


In his complaint, Reagan included the Downtown article as well as email communications between Ecker and Host, and is seeking to know how and from whom Downtown received the communications, including previously seeking the information via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to Ecker. It must be noted, however, that Ecker's emails to and from Host were copied to all city commissioners and department heads.


David Hohendorf, publisher of Downtown Newsmagazine, issued a statement on Thursday, November 14, saying that “We stand by the overall story we published but in a review session today have come to question the accuracy of one exact quote attributed to Therese Longe at the end of the story. As we do anytime there is an issue, complaint or challenge involving what was published, when we learned of the ethics complaint we took considerable time to review Lisa Brody's recollection of the conversation with Longe from weeks ago and determined that there was legitimate question of whether part of one quote was accurate. Following a detailed review, we have revised the final sentence in the story, on our website and in our December issue which is now being printed, to reflect that if Host violates the ethics opinion for a third time, anyone could bring a formal complaint to the ethics board, rather than implying that Longe suggested in any way that she or members of the city commission would be the party making the ethics complaint.


“As to the misguided effort by Host and Reagan, we don't disclose or discuss sources who supply us with internal documents from the government, so lots of luck with that effort which would have a chilling effect on our attempts to report the news for local residents, an activity protected by the Constitution and U.S. Supreme Court decisions. My suggestion is that Reagan and Host would have better spent their time reflecting on the fact that two city managers and an ethics panel have called into question Host's behavior so that Host can gain a more thorough understanding of the role of an elected commissioner. As to the conspiracy theory that there was any coordinated effort to derail candidate Host during an election in which he had absolutely no opposition, well, that really speaks for itself and is not worth dignifying with a response.”

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