Franklin city council member, reserve deputy shares controversial Facebook post

A Franklin City Council member who also is a reserve sheriff’s deputy shared a post on social media this weekend that referred to s***hole countries, Democrats, votes and the United States.

Joe Ault, a Republican, shared a Facebook post Friday night from a “conservative group” that said “We bring people from s***hole countries because s***hole Democrats need s***hole votes so they can turn America into a s***hole. Do you agree?”

Ault did not offer any additional commentary with the post, and he did not respond on social media to any of the dozens of comments that were posted that called him a racist or other names or demanded his resignation. A handful of people commented that they supported his post or liked it.

He deleted the post Monday afternoon and said he was sorry for putting the city in a bad light. He characterized the post as part of a nine-year exchange of jabs with liberal friends, and sharing it was “probably a dumb thing to do.”

When asked if he was sorry, regretted sharing the post or felt the need to apologize to the city or residents, he said: “I have been running that through my mind all day. I’m sorry that I’ve put the city in a bad light, that’s for sure. I would never do that intentionally.

“This was just a dumb thing that Facebook will get you in trouble with occasionally I guess if you do stuff like this,” he said.

Commenters called Ault an embarrassment to the city and asked for his resignation. Ault said he will not resign.

The mayor of Franklin encouraged the angry residents he was hearing from to vote in the next city election.

Ault has been an elected member of the Franklin City Council for more than 20 years and represents District 1. He also is a reserve deputy for the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, a position that gives him the authority to ticket motorists, detain and arrest people or take on private jobs by companies or entertainment venues that need security service.

Franklin Mayor Steve Barnett asked Ault on Monday morning to remove the post, at a minimum, and do what is best for the city, and Sheriff Doug Cox was asking for an internal investigation into the post and whether it violated any sheriff’s office policies.

“I do not agree with the statement that he made,” Barnett said, stressing repeatedly that it is not a representation of the city or its officials and that he was deeply disappointed in Ault’s post.

“My job is to take care of everyone,” Barnett said. “Not just a select few.”

The mayor did not ask Ault to resign, but told him he did not approve of the post and encouraged him to do what is best for the city, Barnett said.

“It does not represent the city, and it does not represent me,” Barnett said. Ault is elected independently from the mayor or other city council members and answers to the voters, who elect him in primary and general elections every four years. Barnett has no authority over him.

Ault’s post remained on social media for several more hours after the mayor’s request before being removed just before 2 p.m. Ault said he waited to delete the post because he wanted to see what people were saying about it.

“And it was pretty much nonstop, and, you know, they were calling me every name in the book, racist, which I certainly am not,” Ault said. “I had seen enough. I thought about writing back to them and I thought ‘no, that’s probably not a good idea.’”

He said he looked at the social media profiles of the people who were commenting on his page and noted that they were all out-of-state residents whose profiles were full of Trump hate.

When asked how he would or could defend himself to commenters’ allegations that he is racist, he said: “How do you do that? I’ve never been accused of being a racist. That’s not me.”

“They can say whatever they want. It’s not true because they don’t know me,” Ault said. “I’ve got a very long record with the city of Franklin. I’ll put my voting record up against anybody. When I’m sitting in that council chamber, I don’t see Republican, Democrat or Libertarian. It’s totally neutral. I’ve got the record to prove it.”

Commenters also demanded he resign, saying he didn’t deserve to be in any position of authority.

Ault said he could understand why people were upset about the post.

“I’m not making excuses,” Ault said. “It’s just one of those things. I wasn’t even thinking about it.”

Ault said he and his liberal friends have been sending messages to each other for about nine years and the political climate has been target-rich.

“I’m so used to sending out stuff about President Obama, because we were so used to doing that for the past eight years, and getting stuff back, and that’s just the way we do things,” Ault said. “That’s just my little friend group that we banter back and forth with.”

He said the post was not reflective of how he feels about people from certain countries, or Democrats.

“I’m sorry I put Franklin in a bad light,” Ault said. “I’m definitely sorry about that. When I shared that, it wasn’t my intention to offend anyone. It was my intention to go at it with my friends.”

He said the only call he had received by Monday afternoon was from the mayor.

“He wanted to let me know the city email was getting burned up, and I apologized to him and told him it was my fault,” Ault said.

Ault also has been a reserve deputy at the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office for more than 20 years, Cox said.

The sheriff will ask the chief deputy and the deputies who oversee the reserve program to look into the matter, including covering such due diligence as whether Ault authored the comment and whether Ault or another person with access to his account shared it, and also determine whether it violates any sheriff’s office policies.

Reserve deputies work for free and serve at the pleasure of the sheriff and do not face promotion, termination or punishment by an appointed merit board, as full-time police officers and sheriff’s deputies typically do in Indiana.

The sheriff said that he and the department for years have stressed to deputies to be careful what they say and do on social media, and that he would not have made such a post and wouldn’t want his employees to either.

Ault said he volunteers as a reserve deputy to help people, and has never had any complaints against him.

Barnett said Franklin has worked to become a diverse city and demonstrates that diversity by welcoming everyone with open arms, and that he would work to make sure Ault’s post did not damage the city’s reputation or distract from the work completed and to be done in the city.

“One person can not take down a city,” Barnett said, noting that Franklin’s other elected and appointed officials do not share Ault’s view.

Franklin is proud to be a community of diversity in race, nationality and political party, Barnett said.

“Everyone of us in city government is upset about this,” the mayor said. “We don’t need this. This is Franklin, Indiana. We are open arms to everyone.”

Several social media groups brought Ault’s post to the attention of their memberships and called on their members to take action.

A group called People For A Progressive Franklin said it was working on a letter to present at the next city council meeting and was contacting council president Ken Austin.

Indiana Progressive Liberals shared the post to expose Ault as a racist, and its membership shared and commented on the post hundreds of times within a few hours.

Ault’s post came hours after the national news that President Donald Trump had grown frustrated with lawmakers in a meeting in the Oval Office last week and reportedly questioned why people from s***hole countries were coming to the United States.