ANDERSON — Levi Cox, the city’s recently hired street commissioner, has closed his Facebook account after questions about posts he shared in 2019 that could be construed as offensive to immigrants and Muslims.

Because the posts were shared before he was hired in June, the city will not take any action.

When shown copies of the posts from Cox’s social media account recently, Mayor Thomas Broderick Jr. said he had not been aware of them. Broderick appointed Cox as street commissioner in June.

On Sept. 11, 2019, Cox shared a post reading “HOW QUICKLY AMERICA FORGOT” with an image of the burning World Trade Center towers in the background and a photo that appears to be of U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, who is Muslim, in the foreground.

This message is attached to the post: “America has a short memory...we have literally invited the wolves into the hen house. All in the name of tolerance and political correctness ...”

A day later, Cox shared a post of an image that appears to show Omar and fellow congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib with the message, “YOU SAID YOU WOULDN’T FORGET” at the top and “YET YOU VOTED FOR THIS” at the bottom. The post was initially made by Conservative America on Sept. 11, 2019, the day before Cox shared it.

Like Omar, Tlaib is a Muslim; Ocasio-Cortez is not.

On Sept. 13, 2019, Cox shared a post with an image of the 1970s “All in the Family” sitcom character Archie Bunker with the words “IT HURTS THE POOR MUSLIM’S FEELINGS?” at the top and the words “WELL, WHOOPTY DOO...THIS AIN’T ARABIA MEATHEAD” at the bottom.

In an email response to The Herald Bulletin, Cox said he thought, at the time he shared them, that the Facebook posts were “comical.”

“As you know, the posts are several months to years old,” he wrote. “I did not write or create the posts, but I did share them.

“I considered them to be comical rather than an expression of my feelings, but I understand how they could be considered offensive,” he said. “I apologize to anyone who might have been offended.”

Cox has since deleted his Facebook account and, he said, he has expressed regret to the Broderick administration about the posts.

During a recent interview with The Herald Bulletin, Broderick said the city has an extensive and detailed social media policy, and he would be concerned if the posts had been made recently.

“This (city) policy is limited by the First Amendment’s free speech clause, which provides constitutional protection of an individual’s right of free speech and expression.”

The mayor added that he couldn’t discriminate against individuals based on political or religious views.

“Therefore, the city cannot take action to abridge such rights except in very limited circumstances,” Broderick said. “The City of Anderson’s policy balances these constitutionally protected rights with a policy that attempts to place reasonable requirements on current employees that allows speech so long as it does not impair working relationships.”

Broderick said the city’s social media policy prohibits speech containing obscenities or sexually explicit language, images, or acts and statements that malign, disparage or express bias against any race, religion, political party or protected class of individuals.

He said the policy pertains only to speech during employment, not before hiring.

“The city does not, and cannot legally, restrict free speech rights and expression of opinions of noncity employees,” Broderick said. “The city does take appropriate action under our personnel policies whenever an employee violates a policy of the city.”

Cox, a lifelong resident of Anderson and graduate of Frankton High School, was appointed street commissioner after the death of Acting Street Commissioner Tom Brown.

His previous work experience includes concrete and asphalt installation, repair and removal; logistics; employee training and managemen; regulatory compliance; payroll reporting; and customer service.

“I am honored to have this opportunity to serve the citizens of Anderson,” Cox said in a press release. “I have worked hard to build a successful business over the past 20 years and I have learned a lot.”

Broderick said Cox, co-owner of the Kroakerheads restaurant downtown, has the right experiences for his new job with the city.

“Based upon Levi’s extensive experience, he clearly has the knowledge and skills to do the job,” Broderick said. “He has a strong work ethic, will be a hands-on leader and won’t ask the men and women of the street department do to anything that he isn’t willing to do himself.”

The street commissioner is responsible for the department’s daily operations and seasonal schedules, including street paving, pothole repair, berming, crack sealing, sidewalk replacement, street sweeping, alley grading or paving, leaf removal, snow removal and other maintenance-related activities.

The commissioner also is responsible for preparing and disbursing the department’s budget, equipment purchases and supplies, employee hiring and training, plus management of personnel including job performance evaluations.

The street commissioner’s salary is $65,000.

Follow Ken de la Bastide on Twitter @KendelaBastide, or call 765-640-4863.

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Senior Reporter covering Anderson and Madison County government, politics and auto racing for The Herald Bulletin. Has been working as a journalist in central Indiana since 1977.