Ward 4 Councilman Marty Turner says he’ll turn his phone over to the city, and he doesn’t want it back.
Turner’s city-issued phone was deactivated last week, after he posted a serious of inflammatory messages to Facebook on June 11. Mayor Robert Smith ordered service to Turner’s phone disconnected on June 13, citing an abuse of city property for using it to post messages.
Turner made a number of posts on his personal Facebook account last Saturday, including one calling Mississippi House District 41 Rep. Kabir Karriem a “b***h.”
Turner told The Dispatch the posts were in response to death threats he’s received on Facebook, which he claims come from Karriem and Lowndes County District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks conspiring against him.
In a statement issued after Turner’s phone was deactivated, Smith said he’d restore service to Turner’s phone if Turner turns the phone in to the crime lab to allow officials to determine if he used it to post the messages to Facebook.
On Friday, Turner said the demand to give his phone to the crime lab is demeaning and disrespectful. He said he’ll give the city his phone, and the city can keep it.
“They can have it,” Turner said. “I’m going to turn it back over so they can put it in surplus.”
Turner said his biggest issue with his phone’s deactivation isn’t the loss of service for his personal needs, but the difficulty it created for his constituents in reaching him. He said he used the phone as a public line for the community to contact him, and the sudden disconnection has disrupted that.
Without the number, Turner said, some of his constituents don’t know how to reach him, and others have had to go to his house. Now Turner said he’ll use a private phone for the community to reach him.
Turner said he also took issue the lack of notice before the phone was disconnected.
“I don’t want any disturbance like that again,” Turner said. “I will never, never get a phone from the city unless they can guarantee me they will give me a 30-day notice before it’s shut off.
“If they had given me time, I would have told my constituents how to get in contact with me, or given them a means to get in contact with me,” he added.
According to city attorney Jeff Turnage, Smith has the authority to unilaterally deactivate a councilman’s city-provided phone, as he did with Turner.
“As the chief executive officer of the city, the Mayor is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the city,” Turnage said. “The city-owned cell phones provided to members of the City Council are not part of the city’s financial obligation to members of the council. Just like all city property, cell phones are to be used for city business only.”
Last week isn’t the first time Turner has gotten in trouble for his social media postings. In October, the city council reprimanded him for posts, including one where he called Karriem a “b***h boy.”
At that meeting, Karriem said Turner’s posts violated the city’s social media policy, which was adopted in 2013. The policy forbids city employees from conduct that is “malicious, obscene, threatening or intimidating, that disparages co-employees, suppliers or that might constitute harassment or bullying.” The policy further lists an example of such posts as any that might harm someone’s reputation.
Turnage said Smith could deactivate Turner’s phone if it was used to violate city policy.
“As Mayor, Robert Smith has an obligation to enforce policy regarding equipment usage and that is what was done with Councilman Turner and the termination of the cell phone service,” Turnage said.
On Friday, Turner said he couldn’t recall if he used the city phone to post the inflammatory messages to Facebook.
“I use the tablet sometimes,” he said. “Sometimes I use a computer. If I’m at my mom’s house I might use my phone. It’s not like I’m going to run to a computer every time I need to post on Facebook. I’m not a perfect guy. I’m not a robot. I’m a human.”
Alex Holloway was formerly a reporter with The Dispatch.
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