ASHLAND Ashland city commissioner candidate Becky Miller said she will not accept responsibility for widespread plagiarism on her official campaign Facebook page.
The Daily Independent received a packet containing 15 instances — dated between April 28 and Aug. 21 — in which passages from a variety of sources were lifted from the Internet and used as if Miller had wrote them herself. The packet was dropped off anonymously.
In all of the instances, the Miller campaign did not cite the source, nor use quotation marks denoting the words were not her own.
Plagiarize (the verb form of plagiarism) is defined in the Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary as “to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own: use (another’s production) without crediting the source.”
When confronted with the findings, Miller denied responsibility for all but one of the posts, which related to TIF.
“I don’t accept responsibility because it came from a couple of different places,” Miller said. “I will accept responsibility on the TIF post. But I’m not going to take responsibility for all of them, no.”
Miller’s campaign page — “Becky Miller for Ashland City Commission” — does not show anyone else authoring the posts. For all purposes, the page appears to reflect the candidate’s words and messages. In the TIF post, published Aug. 13, Miller posted the following:
“The idea behind a TIF is that by spending money on infrastructure and amenities, a government can spur development in an area – usually an area that needs revitalization. TIFs are used to finance redevelopment projects or other investments using the anticipation of future tax revenue resulting from new development. When a TIF district is established, the ‘base’ amount of property tax revenue is recorded using the status quo before improvements. To the extent such efforts are successful, property values rise, leading to an increase in actual property tax receipts above the base. While the base amount of property tax revenue (the level before redevelopment investments) continues to fund city services, the increase in tax revenue is used to pay bonds and reimburse investors and is often captured as city revenue and allocated toward other projects.”
The first sentence of that post came from a Sept. 25, 2017, story in The State, a newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina. The remainder of the post came from a page on the National Housing Conference website (nhc.org) called “Tax Increment Financing: The Basics.”
Miller said her husband and an unidentified person in Flatwoods had been helping her write posts for the page.
“Honestly, I don’t have a comment, other than to say I’m not a professional writer,” Miller said. “You watch my videos … I’m just straight spoken and not very much of a writer as you could say.”
Since its inception, the Miller campaign has focused on transparency and honesty in city government. When asked how this pattern jives with that message, Miller replied, “I don’t have an answer for it. … I genuinely don’t give a (expletive), to be honest.”
“It’s ridiculous. How can people do everything they can to spin from the facts of what’s going on? And be so petty. Transparency — look, she copied and pasted and all that,” Miller said. “The honesty and transparency needs to be over here (at the city building) when we’re allowing people to (expletive) with kids and everything else.”
Miller said she believed the source of the packet to be Ashland For Change, a recently formed group in Ashland that focuses on racial inequality. Miller claimed the group compiled the posts in an effort to discredit her after her part in last week’s story involving commissioner Marty Gute.
Miller weighed in heavily after a marriage certificate reflecting Gute’s 1979 marriage to a 14-year-old resurfaced on social media.
“They’re protecting Marty at all costs,” Miller said. “It’s going to get nasty. It’s going to get real nasty. I mean, to be as petty as to go and have the time to do this, to cover up pedophilia. I’m going to cry, really, because I’m mad.”
Faith Fountain, a member of Ashland For Change, denied the group had anything to do with the packet. Furthermore, in an Aug. 27 Facebook statement, the organization announced it would not become involved in any local elections, nor endorse any candidates.
Fountain said Miller has been attacking individual members of Ashland For Change and the organization as a whole for at least a month.
In the race, candidates Josh Blanton and Gerald Thompson have official Facebook pages. Write-in candidate Bernice Henry has a Facebook group. The Daily Independent went through 15 of Blanton’s posts and all of Thompson’s posts (he doesn’t have many) and through putting lines of text into a Google search, was unable to find any instances of plagiarism.
Within Henry’s Facebook group, The Daily Independent could only locate at least one post attributed to her Facebook account asking if supporters needed campaign signs.
When asked if the average voter should trust her in light of the plagiarism evidence, Miller replied, “don’t.”
“I mean really, don’t. I don’t care at this point. I am so mad. I’m not going to beg and plead and make excuses and do any of that (expletive) to win a seat on this commission. … I know exactly who brought it here and I know why they brought it here. It’s to discredit. And if that’s the way this city is run, I’m ready to go home and tell Stan to put the house on the market. I’m out, I’m done.”
The following highlights other instances of posts on Miller’s campaign page that were plagiarized from other sources:
• April 28, 2020: “Our upcoming local election is so important and your vote matters! Being uninterested isn’t an excuse. Being uneducated isn’t an excuse ...” The Daily Independent found that in this post, 15 out of 19 sentences were plagiarized. The source of the plagiarism was from an Oct. 28, 2018, story in University News called “Local Elections Matter.” The University News is a student newspaper serving the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
• May 8, 2020: “All of us chose Ashland as a place to live, raise families, create businesses and work together.” With the exception of changing the name to Ashland, this is actually from a letter published April 24 by the Mayor and City Council of Pleasanton, California. Five sentences out of the 15-sentence post were lifted from the letter — since those are long sentences, they amounted to three out of six paragraphs.
• May 12, 2020: “When leaders don’t follow their own advice, they’re not being leaders.” Ironically, this post too had a heavy dose of plagiarism, with seven out of 15 sentences lifted from a post on drzimmerman.com, a website for Dr. Alan Zimmerman, a motivational speaker and life coach. The post was entitled, “If You’re Not Leading By Example, You’re not a Leader.”
• June 4, 2020: “Commissioners come from a variety of backgrounds. Teachers, school principals, farmers, business leaders, lawyers and homemakers have all been elected as city commissioners.” That applies not just to Ashland City Commissioners, but also County Commissioners in Georgia, where these sentences were lifted from. Besides deleting Georgia in the first sentence and tweaking “county” in the second sentence, most of the post is a word-for-word excerpt from the County Commissioner guidebook on the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia website. Eight out of 11 of the lines in Miller’s post here came from the guidebook.
• June 10, 2020: “The possibility of being ostracized or shunned for speaking out is very real, yet I have done it on many occasions.” In this 10-sentence post, Miller vowed to “always make sure those who lack a voice — those who have been forgotten — have a voice at the table.” It turns out, Richmond, Virginia, mayoral candidate Levar Stoney made that same vow in 2016 in the city’s alternative magazine Style Weekly. Good news for Miller — Stoney did win that seat. Overall, this post was mostly Miller’s words — only two lines were lifted from Mayor Stoney’s Sept. 20, 2016, write-up.
• July 1, 2020: “As long as we keep our heads in the dark, politicians will continue to sell us so-called improvements by making them look good before they ask us to say ‘ahh’ and ‘swallow.’” This slick, one-line status posted on Miller’s page was actually from a letter published by Michigan.com on Feb. 5, 2010, by a Sharon Oswalt of Paw Paw, Michigan.
• July 2, 2020: “Making the decision to run for local politics wasn’t easy,” begins a post in which 11 out of 13 sentences were lifted from a Canadian publication. In the post, Miller “writes” that “a reason why so many people feel disengaged from the political process is fear,” because of attacks candidates receive on social media. The main portion of the status was lifted from multiple parts of a Sept. 29, 2018, editorial in BurnabyNow, a newspaper serving Burnaby, British Columbia.
• July 8, 2020: “I am not your typical candidate and it is beginning to upset some folks,” wrote Miller. “I’ve noticed a lot of folks have a problem with the truth, even when it is backed up with documentation. I decided to compile a list for you of the candidates,” she wrote, all in her own words. The accompanying list, which discusses various types of candidates, was mostly lifted from a Dec. 7, 2017, blog entry by head-hunting firm Crawford Thomas called “You will encounter these 5 types of candidates in your next interview process.” Miller used four out of the five types in her post, without attributing the source. This amounted to 20 out 35 lines plagiarized in the post.
• July 8, 2020: “When elected, I will make sure we do things in new ways that directly improve this community that I love so very much,” begins this post in which 11 out 41 sentences were lifted from two separate sources. While the majority of the post is dedicated to local issues facing Ashland, there are some lines lifted and tweaked by inserting Ashland where it references Topeka, Kansas. That’s because it came from two separate candidates running for Topeka City Council — Will Pope and Spencer Duncan — in an Oct. 19, 2019, candidate questionnaire response article published in the Topeka Capital-Journal. One line was lifted from a May 5, 2017, entry on the Greater Mankato Growth Blog, an online publication put out by the Greater Mankato Chamber of Commerce in Minnesota.
• July 20, 2020: “I am going to fight for a comeback.” This post wasn’t as egregious in terms of quantity — eight out of 26 lines were lifted from elsewhere. Within this post, Miller points to Minnesota’s manufacturing industry, stating, “There is a wide variety offered in this manufacturing hub from business like Ursa Major, who specialize in tooling, metal fabrication and vinyl coating.” That factoid and others contained in the post was lifted word-for-word from a Jan. 11, 2017, blog post on Maker’s Row called “The 10 States with the Most Factories.” Also in the post, Miller called for better jobs in the area, stating, “Fast job growth can be unhealthy, if most of the new positions are low-wage jobs that don’t increase income per capita.” This observation was from a Dec. 12, 2018, article from the Pew Charitable Trusts’ subsidiary Stateline, a non-profit reporting project.
• Aug. 4, 2020: “I’ve listened to many Ashland residents tell their unique histories and stories and I’ve learned that we all share a respect and pride for Ashland.” With the exception of replacing Ashland for Lowell, Massachusetts, this 31-sentence post was lifted verbatim from a campaign kick-off speech from Lowell City Council candidate Stacie Hargis, shared on the website richardhowe.com, which is devoted to Lowell politics and history.
• Aug. 15, 2020: “Ashland is in my blood, my heart and my soul,” begins this post asking for folks’ votes. Miller stated, “I will advocate for the preservation of Ashland’s character and family-friendly environment, promote economic development and seek the most efficient and disciplined use of our taxpayer dollars.” Sang Yi, a Fairfax, Virginia, city council candidate made that same vow in a May 5, 2020, article for Connection Newspapers, which owns a slew of papers in the Northern Virginia area outside of Washington, D.C.. Furthermore, Miller addressed coronavirus, stating, “We are facing an unprecedented time and will need a strong team in place to address the physical, mental, social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.” That’s what Jon Stehle, another Fairfax Council candidate, wrote in that same article. Miller also said the commission “should encourage policies that welcome everyone and provide for consistent and thoughtful new growth and inclusion,” a verbatim lift from another Fairfax candidate, Joe Harmon. The total extent of plagiarism here is four out of 15 sentences.
• Aug. 16, 2020: “The U.S. Constitution doesn’t even mention political parties. President George Washington warned about the ‘the danger of parties.’ But even then, our leaders didn’t always agree,” Miller posted. This entire five sentence post was lifted directly from Scholastic.com, in an article entitled “What do Political Parties Stand For?” The article is an aid to middle school teachers going over political parties with their pupils.
• Aug. 21, 2020: “A family is where character is formed, values are learned, ethics are created and society is preserved.” Miller vowed to implement her own family values before copying, without citing, a list verbatim defining principles such as honesty, integrity, trust and responsibility. The list is from pricelessparenting.com called “What are your Family’s Top 5 Moral Values?”
Editor Aaron Snyder and Copy Editor Katelyn Adkins contributed to this report.
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