North Texas

Plano Mayor Calls on Councilman to Resign Over Facebook Post on Islam

Councilman Tom Harrison posts apology late Wednesday, does not address mayor's call to resign

Tuesday night, a short video featuring school scenes and girls in hijabs with the words "Share if you think Trump should ban Islam in American schools" was shared by Plano City Councilman Tom Harrison's Facebook page.

The video stayed on the page for most of the day Wednesday, even as Plano Mayor Harry LaRosiliere says he and the city manager tried to reach the councilman for an explanation.

"I waited to hopefully see some type of retraction that his account was hacked," LaRosiliere said. "I'm not sure why that was there, but that didn't happen."

At a press conference Wednesday afternoon, LaRosiliere publicly called on Harrison to resign.

"Mr. Harrison's position indicates that he is unfit to represent this richly diverse city. This conduct is inconsistent with the values of the city of Plano," LaRosiliere said.

LaRosiliere said Harrison had not previously expressed any views about Islam to the mayor or during official city meetings.

Harrison was elected to the city council in 2015 for a four-year term. His Facebook page shows consistent posts about city business and his views on city issues.

NBC 5 tried to reach Harrison Wednesday afternoon by calling his city phone and emailing his city email account. A reporter left a voicemail on his mobile phone, a note on his door at home and sent him a Facebook message. NBC 5 reached his adult son by phone who said his dad was in doctors' appointments and the message would be passed on.

Later Wednesday afternoon, the Facebook post was taken down, and by Wednesday evening Harrison posted an apology but did not address the mayor's call for him to resign.

The video shared on Harrison's page was from a Facebook group called "Joined Hands Across America for Trump." The video doesn't specify what is meant by banning Islam from schools, whether that means banning world religion lessons, prayer or Muslim students.

"I'm a mom, I'm a city of Plano resident, I'm also a Muslim, so the post kind of struck a chord in many ways for me," said Suzanne, who declined to give her last name publicly.

She said a friend sent her a screenshot of the post early Wednesday morning. It upset her enough to begin emailing the city and then make the trip to city hall to hear directly from the mayor.

"When it comes to public servants voicing their opinions in the public sphere that can easily be accessed by everyone — children and adults alike — I think that bears with it some kind of responsibility," Suzanne said.

Imam Omar Suleiman, of Faith Forward Dallas and an Irving resident, said the sharing of the video on Facebook is concerning coming from a public official.

"When an entire group of people are targeted either by a teacher or an elected official, then those people are unfit to educate or to lead," Suleiman said. "I think that's what the post is really all about."

He says if Harrison does not resign, he expects the community will continue to look for political consequences for the post.

"We're going to stage protests, we're going to continue to mobilize to make sure that the councilman is replaced," Suleiman said.

Nafis Pathan, of the Islamic Association of Collin County, says his community has been active with the city of Plano and that he was disappointed in Harrison but pleased with the mayor's response.

"I hope the city councilman understands the consequences and accepts the demand from Mayor Harry [LaRosiliere]," Pathan said.

Some in the Muslim community say they plan to attend Thursday's planned State of the City, where typically citizens can meet with the city council.

Harrison would be up for election next year unless he resigns or enough signatures are gathered to force a recall election. The city requires at least 30 percent of the number of votes cast in the municipal election the official won to trigger a recall election. In Harrison's election, a city spokesman said 9,301 votes were cast in the 2015 municipal election, and a recall petition would require 2,791 signatures.

Harrison's full apology follows:

"I want to sincerely apologize to the Plano Muslim Community for the unintentional hurt I caused by reposting something on my personal Facebook page that wrongfully implied I am anti-Muslim. My intent on inputting this on my personal Facebook page was to emphasize that Christianity is not the only religion being targeted for exclusion in our public school. It was not meant as a personal attack against the Islamic faith. As a Christian, it is my belief that all should be free to worship as they choose, but we live in a time where any practice of religious expression in public schools is rarely tolerated. My hope is that due to the rightful negative response to my post, that it will spark a renewed discussion about all religions and their place in our public schools. My other regret is that my personal action has reflected poorly on the City of Plano. My action was personal in nature, but I should have remembered this past Monday night’s Council discussion …. none of us are ever truly off duty. None of us are perfect, and we will all be judged one day by the highest authority. Until then, I ask for forgiveness within the community and acceptance of my sincere apology."

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