Social media posting draws criticism at council meeting

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published October 10, 2017

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A Sterling Heights Planning Commission member has apologized after some residents took offense to a social media post that used imagery of prisoners captured by the Islamic State organization.

Geoff Gariepy is a paid member of the Planning Commission and a member of the local Community Emergency Response Team. In a Sept. 6 post on a public Facebook group page called Sterling Heights Local Politics, he was involved in discussing public speaking practices during city meetings. The thread participants often employed sarcasm and meme-like images.

“Here’s what the line of people waiting to speak in the CFC (communications from citizens) segment would look like in a perfect world,” Gariepy wrote, along with a photo he posted of four hogtied prisoners captured by ISIS.

At a Sept. 19 Sterling Heights City Council meeting, several residents complained about Gariepy’s social media post. Resident Linda Godfrey said she was appalled.

“He should be removed from his position on the Planning Commission,” she said. “It is a paid seat. He represents ‘We, the People,’ and obviously he does not have respect for the people that he’s there to represent at the Planning Commission, nor should he be in charge of anything in this city.”

Resident Charles Jefferson said that the post wasn’t funny.

“When it comes to killing people, guess what? We take this seriously here in this town,” he said. “So, what I’m asking this council to do tonight is to send a clear message that we here in Sterling Heights will not tolerate this behavior by anyone here in this city, especially the people who are paid to represent the people of Sterling Heights’ community and get paid for it from the people of Sterling Heights.”

After the public spoke Sept. 19, Mayor Michael Taylor said he takes the issue very seriously and has talked to Gariepy about it. While Taylor said that the post was in “bad taste” and a failed attempt at humor, he didn’t ask for a resignation.

“I have the full trust in all of our planning commissioners to represent the interests of our residents,” the mayor said. “I don’t think, in his heart, he believes that (the post is) an accurate depiction of what should happen.”

At the following Oct. 3 City Council meeting, Gariepy read a formal apology, taking full responsibility but denying that his online comment was seriously advocating killing people.

“Taken out of context, the image makes me look like a monster, and it is an embarrassment not only for me but also for people who have supported me,” he said. “I regret that it is also an embarrassment for my fellow planning commissioners, and for that I am truly sorry.”

Gariepy apologized to anyone offended and said, as a way to atone, that he has donated to UNICEF USA to benefit the children of war-torn Syria.

“Nobody else deserves the blame for this besides me. It will not happen again,” he said. “I believe my gravest error was in using an image depicting real human suffering as part of a joke. On reflection, I am shocked at how callous it was for me to do that.”

Afterward, Councilman Gary Lusk said he has forgiven Gariepy, adding that people sometimes “push ‘send’ too quickly” while on social media. Taylor also accepted Gariepy’s apology, adding that Gariepy has “learned a lot from this episode.”

On Oct. 4, media reports surfaced of the mayor reportedly telling an online critic identified in the exchanges as Kevin Lee to “go to hell” while trading insults on social media. The comments were found on the Sterling Heights Local Politics forum. Taylor declined to comment to the Sentry on the matter. Lee could not be reached for comment by press time.

For more information about Sterling Heights, visit www.sterling-heights.net or call (586) 446-2489.

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