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Published: Friday, 1/3/2014

Long-time Norwalk councilman says he was trying to be funny in 'joke' email

BY MARK REITER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

NORWALK, Ohio -- A long-time councilman said he didn't believe an email he sent to friends, former co-workers, and the city law director was racist and derogatory to minorities, but instead he interpreted its content as humorous.

The email, entitled "Spelling Bee Champ," was forwarded on Dec. 12 from the personal email account of Norwalk Councilman Robert Carleton to more than a dozen people, including Norwalk law director G. Stuart O'Hara.

Mr. Carleton, the second ward councilman, admitted during an interview with The Blade to sending the contents in an email.

"In hindsight, I can see how it can be interpreted as racist ... but that wasn't my intent when I sent it. I thought it was humorous," Mr. Carleton said.

Through insensitive, and bigoted jargon, the email, with grammatical and spelling errors, cruelly mocks an African-Hispanic girl who received extra points in a school spelling contest for "being black," "not bringin" drugs and guns to class and "not getting pregnut during the cemester."

The email also attacked the Affordable Care Act and affirmative action.

Mr. Carleton, 71, was elected to city council in the 1990s in the Huron County community, which is 70 miles southeast of Toledo. According to the Huron County Republican Party Web site, he is an endorsed member of the party.

A copy of the email, including the list of recipients who were forwarded the message, was sent on Friday to The Blade.

When contacted, Mr. Carleton confirmed that the email account belonged to him and that he had sent the message to other people. The gmail account he used to send the email from also is listed online as an contact for him as councilman.

Mr. O'Hara recalled that after receiving the email from Mr. Carleton about a month ago he immediately shared its contents with Mayor Rob Duncan and Steve Euton, president of city council.

"I was shocked," he said. "I didn't care for the joke, if that's what it was suppose to be."

Other recipients of the message included former and current employees of a company in Tiffin, Ohio where Mr. Carleton use to work.

Mayor Duncan said he referred the matter to Mr. Euton after he obtained the email from the law director. He said actions of council members are not under the control of the administration and any discipline, censure, or review is the responsibility of council.

"Bob is technically not part of the administration. He is part of city council so we really don't have authority over council. But this is nothing that we would condone or endorse," Mayor Duncan said. "I think I know Bob well enough and I don't think he would do anything malicious and intentional. But I think the content is unacceptable."

The email controversy didn't come up at the Dec. 17 council meeting, the mayor said.

Mayor Duncan said the incident prompted the administration to issue a memo asking elected city officials to be careful of the content of emails.

"I can see where someone would do that without thinking about it. But in our positions we have to think," Mayor Duncan said.

Contact Mark Reiter at:
markreiter@theblade.com
or 419-724-6199.


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