Plano voters will have an opportunity to decide whether Council Member Tom Harrison will retain his seat after the council scheduled a recall election, a significant step for a group of Plano residents who sought to remove Harrison for sharing a series of anti-Islam content on his personal Facebook page.
The Plano City Council scheduled a Nov. 6 election date to determine Harrison’s future on the council after the city secretary’s office confirmed earlier Monday that a petition the group circulated had obtained enough valid signatures to trigger the recall election process outlined in the city charter.
Harrison’s seven council colleagues had voted unanimously on Feb. 18 to admonish him for statements made on his personal Facebook page, including links Harrison shared in 2016 to articles that made politicized statements about black fatherhood and falsely asserted that all present-day slaveowners are Muslim. All of Harrison’s fellow council members at the time either suggested he should resign or called for his resignation outright.
The city attorney’s office brought these posts and others to the council’s attention within days of Harrison sharing a Facebook video on Feb. 13 from another account that called for President Donald Trump to “ban Islam in American schools.”
Harrison had previously apologized to the Muslim community for sharing the video, but has yet to publicly apologize for the additional posts that prompted the council’s censure.
“I am not xenophobic. I am not a bigot. I am not a racist,” Harrison said at the Feb. 18 meeting before announcing he would not resign. “What I am is someone who was elected to do a job for everyone in Plano.”
Harrison abstained from Monday’s vote, which City Attorney Paige Mims said the council was obligated by the city’s governing documents to approve in light of the successful petition. Councilman Anthony Ricciardelli also abstained after asking unsuccessfully to delay the decision until after Harrison is given a public hearing to defend himself.
Harrison said during the meeting that he wishes to speak in his own defense at the April 23 council meeting, an opportunity the city charter affords to public officials that are subject to the recall process.
The decision to call the election was reached over the objections of Allan Samara, a spokesman for Harrison during the recall process, who argued the city’s ordinances governing recall elections require Harrison to be given a chance to defend himself publicly before a recall election can be scheduled.
“Any attempt to short-circuit the clearly enumerated procedures outlined in the ordinances will most assuredly expose this activity as an extra-legal, strong-armed, forced activity reflecting poorly on the sitting city power structure,” Samara wrote before the meeting in a statement to the council that was also shared with members of the local news media.
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated Allan Samara’s interpretation of the city’s ordinance pertaining to recall elections. Samara argued Harrison was entitled to defend himself before a recall election is scheduled, not before it is held.