Lucas Ratliff’s meeting in Columbus ended 10 minutes early Monday night.
The early dismissal gave him enough time to appear before Delaware City Council, already about 10 minutes into discussion of a resolution to remove him from the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board for his conduct on social media before the Nov. 8 general election.
Ratliff told The Gazette he could not attend the meeting because of a prior commitment. But he had a 15-minute conversation with Council, which included some tense exchanges between Councilwoman Lisa Keller, 2nd Ward, and Mayor Carolyn Kay Riggle.
Council voted 5-0 to remove Ratliff from the board. Vice Mayor Kent Shafer and Councilman Kyle Rohrer abstained from the vote.
Ratliff’s removal was new territory for Council. The Mayor appoints volunteers to the city’s various boards, commissions and committees, with Council ratifying them via a resolution.
But there was no procedure on removing members before their terms expired, Riggle said.
“We’ve never had this happen,” she said. “… Since they were put on by a resolution, we felt it was best to have them removed by a resolution.”
City Attorney Darren Shulman said he copied the process to remove a council member and had notified Ratliff of his rights to address Council with testimony, evidence and with an attorney present.
Before the election, Ratliff posted a comment in response to Keller’s post on the Better Roads for Delaware Facebook page. The citizen-led, pro-levy political action committee consider it a personal criticism and banned him from the page.
Ratliff created a second profile account to repost the following comment:
“I think I’ll save my pity for the families who can’t afford Starbucks everyday that will be losing even more of their disposable income. Or perhaps the families east of the point that can’t get an answer if they’ll be displaced or not. Or the families who bought homes that don’t know if they’ll have a road at their doorstep.
“You are out of touch with this community and don’t know the first thing about creating a City budget. If you have questions about the City’s budget, call the finance department. If you have questions about essential oils, call Lisa Keller.
“Let me remind you of your exact quote that shows just how much you care…
“‘I’m not really seeing us turning around and going back out if this levy fails.’
“Agree with us now or we refuse to find more appropriate solutions in the future. Great mentality.”
Jim Browning, a co-chair of Better Roads, said in a statement to Council that many comments critical of city council, city management and the workers who make repairs to the city’s roads were allowed to remain, including some made by Ratliff himself because they expressed local residents’ opinions and were not targeted at individuals.
“Because Mr. Ratliff’s posting was critical of Ms. Keller as an individual, I deleted his post, and I believe I noted on the page that it had been deleted because it contained personal criticism,” he said.
Ratliff also took a photo from Keller’s own Facebook account. The photo show Keller’s face with unibrow drawn on by herself during a weekend with friends.
Ratliff posted the photo on an anti-levy Facebook page with the caption “Lisa Keller — Mrs. My Way or the Highway.” Keller provided The Gazette a screen shot image to show Ratliff uploaded the photo to his duplicate account as a profile picture. Ratliff has denied such action.
“I really don’t care how he voted,” Riggle said. “… I think it was very inappropriate for someone who is representing the city to do.”
Some council members questioned whether action could be taken when are there no specific standards on conduct set for the city’s boards.
“I find some of the remarks made by this gentlemen offensive,” Shafer said. “That being said we don’t currently have any standards other than the ethics standards for the volunteers on our boards.”
He said public officials are subject to criticism and the public could perceive Council’s removal of Ratliff from the parks board as punitive for his offensive remarks.
Councilman George Hellinger said a Code of Conduct would be drafted for the future.
“Unfortunately times change,” he said.
Councilman Joe DiGenova, 3rd Ward, said he consider abstaining from the vote but did not care for Ratliff describing Council as a “dog and pony show” in his comments to the Gazette.
“We don’t need a person like that on board,” he said.
Cory Ratliff spoke on his brother’s behalf asking Council whether action would have been taken if the levy had passed.
Additionally, Monday’s meeting was the first time Lucas Ratliff and Keller met since the dispute came into the public sphere. Keller said she did not see Ratliff’s comments or had anything to do with banning him from the page.
“The picture you chosen was a funny picture,” she said. “… My issue is not the picture.”
She said creating a second account to continue to post comments on a Facebook page was “childish behavior” and below a representative of the city.
“I really questioned your professional judgment,” Keller said.
Ratliff said the photo was to draw attention to his statements online. His exchanges with Keller became tense over who said what and whether the premise for his removal was sound. Keller said she feared Ratliff would carry out the same behavior if a citizen or parks board member disagreed with him. He asked if she talked with other members of the parks board.
Keller said it was based on “past behavior.”
Ratliff said he became angry with Keller when his resignation was requested from Riggle during a meeting on the last week of December. He and the Mayor had a tense exchange about whether she had said Council came to a “unanimous” decision to request his resignation at their meeting.
But Riggle apologized for not addressing the matter to him sooner because she was out of town for more than a month to take care of a family member.
Ratliff said his meeting with Riggle was counter to a prior and productive meeting with City Manager Tom Homan about the road levy.
But Homan said the meeting was an attempt to see if there was a willingness on Ratliff’s part to acknowledge that he had stepped over the line.
“It’s clear to me you used her picture and you did it to embarrass her and the fact that you’re here tonight and you don’t find anything wrong with it,” said Councilman Rohrer, who serves on the parks and recreation board.
“At the very least, it’s childish, if not creepy, so I’m concerned you don’t find it to be unprofessional.”
Ratliff’s term, as an at-large representative, would have ended Dec. 31, 2018.
“While I certainly believe there are both legal and ethical flaws in Council’s position, I do not plan to formally challenge their action,” he said in an email Tuesday. “Instead I plan to help educate our community surrounding the closed door politics that run our local government. I have been nothing but transparent and honest throughout this whole charade and I believe our local leaders have a duty to this community to do the same. A citizen group is being formed to bring accountability and transparency to our city and we will encourage more people to get involved. Our Council can not continue to forget that the citizens are the true individuals at the top of the organizational chart and it’s okay for people to share differing opinions than them. The journey to restore honesty, integrity and transparency to our city has only just begun.”
Brandon Klein can be reached at 740-413-0904 or on Twitter at @brandoneklein.