Macomb County City Deletes Former Official's Criticism from Website

'It's just a shame' city won't present the full picture on tax hike

St. Clair Shores officials have deleted arguments posted on the city’s Facebook page and website by a former city council member critical of a proposed tax increase.

Erin Stahl, a businesswoman and former city council member for the Macomb County community, said officials are actively misleading voters about an August millage, which is promoted as a public safety measure. Stahl said the city is using an accounting trick to deceive citizens about the millage, and that the higher tax will actually let officials spend more on things unrelated to public safety.

“I’m just really offended that the city doesn’t want to give residents the full picture view of what’s going on with this millage. It’s just a shame,” Stahl said.

The city, she claims, is trying to convince residents to vote yes on the millage while not using the words "vote yes."

On July 12, Stahl posted on the city's Facebook page a video of a lecture she gave about the millage proposal. She said the video was deleted, and then she was banned from the page on July 24. Another video Stahl posted was also deleted.

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In a post that invited people to watch one of her videos, Stahl implied that she had information about the millage that city officials did not want voters to know. She also gave her email address and offered to answer any questions.

Mary Jane D’Herde, a spokeswoman for the city, cited the Facebook page’s terms of use policy. One portion of that policy says violations “may result in the removal of comments, links to sites, pictures or videos or the banning of users, depending on the severity of the violation. No additional notification of violation will be provided to the user.”

The terms of use also notes that users cannot post “false, misleading or deceptive information, sponsorships and/or advertisements.”

Calling the page a "limited public forum," D'Herde said that the city "can legally provide additional guidelines for behavior above and beyond those specified by Facebook." She did not specify what information in the materials Stahl posted was false or misleading.

Stahl, who served on city council from 2003-07, has appealed the ban and requested a certified public accountant review the city’s statement. Her appeal meeting, set for Sept. 14, will be voted on by the city's communications commission. Under city rules, a majority vote of the commission can overturn the ban.

D’Herde explained to the communications commission how Stahl violated the city's terms of use. Stahl was ultimately banned at the request of City Manager Mike Smith. Though Stahl's comments about the millage were negative and derogatory, D'Herde said, they did not violate the city's terms of use and were not deleted.

D'Herde came to a different conclusion about the videos, saying, “However, Ms. Stahl also posted two videos she created that disguised and presented her opinion as ‘fact’ and made false statements that serve to mislead our residents." Citing directions from City Manager Mike Smith, she said that the videos were deleted after Stahl posted the second video. She added that Stahl was banned from posting on the city's Facebook page and that comments for and against the millage continued to appear on the page.

In an email to Stahl, Mayor Pro Tem John Caron said that a presentation she sent to him about the millage was partially illegible. He said that she had refused to send him new, legible charts.

“From what I could tell from the charts that were legible, you were using data that was over 5 years old and the debt information was not accurate,” Caron added.

Stahl founded Citizens Opposed to Unfair Needless Taxes (COUNT), a group that opposes the millage request.

“I just really do not like the fact they’re doing everything in their power to silence my voice,” Stahl added.