A San Antonio councilman took to Facebook to insult a man and his wife trying to report alleged corruption, sending private messages through the social media network to the couple suggesting they have severe mental health problems and dismissing their corruption complaint as “silly.”
“I’ve decided I can’t help you with any of this,” Councilman Manny Pelaez posted to the couple on Facebook Messenger on March 21 in regards to the corruption allegations from John and Susan Foddrill. “It is an indecipherable bowl of nonsense-spaghetti with a healthy serving of silly sauce poured on top of it.”
In another post on March 23, he shared a link to a local expert on psychosis and schizophrenia with the couple, adding: “Sending you all my prayers for a quick recovery.”
In a Facebook message dated March 16, Pelaez addressed Susan Foddrill directly, the Facebook message shows.
“Susan, stick with me! We’ll have your mental health problem fixed in no time! With John’s support and your daughter’s too, we’ll beat the monsters that haunt you. Team work Susan!! (prayer parentheses…) I just said a prayer for you ma’am. You’re welcome.”
In a later message that same day, Pelaez wrote: “I suspect it must be difficult and embarrassing to face your psychiatric illnesses, ma’am.” He also referenced the couple’s daughter again. “I don’t know your daughter’s special skills, but I’m sure she possesses one or two to help you face the dragons that lurk behind the mask of sanity you wear,” he wrote.
The posts raise questions of whether mental illness should be used as a punchline by a public official, particularly given that experts recently told the Legislature that one in five Texas adults experience a mental health condition every year. And a recent Bexar County Community Health Needs Assessment noted: “Of all principal diagnoses examined, the only hospitalization rate that has increased dramatically from 2010 is for mental illness.”
Pelaez did not return calls to his council office seeking comment.
“As somebody who’s been reporting corruption for a long time, I’m used to the insults,” John Foddrill told The Texas Monitor. “People have insulted me for years. And that’s me, that’s fine. But when a man insults my wife with these vulgar insults day after day after day, I’m not going to stand for that. This is my wife. We’ve been married 48 years. This is a nice, wonderful, beautiful lady.”
To be sure, Foddrill is a long-time and well-known San Antonio gadfly. Before Pelaez told Foddrill he was not interested in his corruption tips, some of which date back to 1982, Foddrill inundated Pelaez with information. And after Pelaez said he was not going to look into the issue further, the Foddrills continued to send information.
When Pelaez began his Facebook messages to the Foddrills suggesting they were mentally ill, John Foddrill publicly shared messages between him and the councilman showing how Pelaez initially appeared to be interested in his corruption tips. The Foddrills suggested there was something untoward about the councilman’s new lack of interest.
He and his wife also publicly called Pelaez “Manny the Magician” on Facebook, “for making reports of public/police/judicial corruption vanish,” complete with a caricature of Pelaez with a magician’s wand and a rabbit coming out of a top hat.
Still, Foddrill insists, “I’m not badgering this man.”
Foddrill said he stopped publishing publicly anything about Pelaez completely after the councilman’s continued messages to the couple.
“We even stopped posting many comments just to avoid any more personal attacks by him,” Foddrill said. “I try to stay calm, but I’m very, very, very upset and mad because this man has attacked my wife with these vulgar comments over and over again.”
To Holly Doggett, executive director of the Texas branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, people using mental illness as an insult is, sadly, not surprising.
“It’s an easy finger-pointing mechanism for people,” Doggett said. “I don’t agree with you, so you must have a mental illness. So, go take care of that, and you’ll be more aligned with the way I think.”
What would she do if she knew of a public figure using mental illness to insult people?
“I would share some of the NAMI ‘StigmaFree’ materials with them and try to help them understand that by using the language that they’re using, that they’re not only stigmatizing and demeaning the person that they are talking to, but they actually could be discouraging other people who do have a mental health condition from seeking treatment,” Doggett said. “I mean, oh my gosh, here’s a public official berating these people and calling them mentally ill and they’re not, but if I am, what would they say about me?”
She supplied to The Texas Monitor, links to NAMI’s programs designed to help erase the stigma surrounding mental health.
The links are here:
“There are still many barriers put up to keep people from seeking treatment,” Doggett said.
“Probably the biggest one is stigma. A major part of the work that NAMI does is to fight stigma, through public awareness campaigns, helping people understand what mental a health condition is, and that mental health conditions are not the bulk of the person who has a mental health condition. We talk about how stigma can keep people from seeking treatment when they need it.”
Pelaez is councilman for San Antonio District eight, which is in the city’s northwest district. Through the middle of the district runs I-10, and the district is flanked on the west by the city of Helotes, and on the east by the city of Shavano Park.
Trent Seibert can be reached at [email protected] or at 832-258-6119.