mayor didnt think anybody would care
Sturm interviewed Genice Rhodes-Reed, the Human Resources Department
director fired by Lansing Mayor David Hollister, on Monday. Excerpts
Q: Robert Johnson, Hollisters chief of staff, says that
poor job performance, not racism, was the reason you were asked to resign.
Is that true?
A: Of course not. The mayor found my performance was good. When
I met with him in April he said, I hope you decide to stay.
We received the National Leader Citys Award last year to improve
K-12 education. After I had put together different partners, we decided
to focus on middle schools. In fact I had a meeting scheduled at 7 a.m.
the next morning after I was fired. Moreover the National Leadership
Program had to cancel a meeting due to my resignation.
Why did you have to leave office then?
A: The mayor is led by certain people. I believe the Personnel
Departments director, Sharon Bommarito, was behind the terminations
of Joe Graves (former chief of staff), Freddie Thomas (former special
assistant to Hollister), Yvonne Christopher (a former Human Resources
Department director) and me.
Q: Freddie Thomas said that his and your dismissal were part
of a conscious decision to get rid of city employees who used to work
with Joe Graves Jr. (who was fired after drunken-driving charges), and
worked for improving opportunities for minorities.
A: Thats true. After Joe Graves dismissal, Sharon
Bommarito bragged they were going to get rid of me. Then the rumors
started that I would get fired. In my understanding the personnel director
was very open and blatant about this.
Q: How was your relationship with Sharon Bommarito?
A: I disagreed with the way hiring people were handled. And she didnt
like that. I felt she wanted to run my department. Frankly, I believe
she engineered the whole thing. Half of her staff personnel left within
the three years I was there. I only had one staff person to leave, although
the mayor and others and thats what I call institutional
racism didnt say anything about her relationship to her
staff. Its a different standard. Her staff was afraid to speak.
The turnover may be the highest in Personnel of any departments.
Q: Why did the situation escalate like this?
A: The mayor didnt think anybody would care, because he knew the
African-American community was fractured. I think it has been irritating
to him that people have questioned his judgment.
Q: You formed the Unity in Community Forum after 9/11. Will you
be forced to resign as the groups coordinator?
A: The mayor doesnt have jurisdiction over what I do as a private
citizen. Whether or not I continue in my role providing leadership to
the coalition is not even an issue. But I didnt want to have attention
focused on me. I believe the focus has to be on what draws us together
and not what tears us apart.
Q: The Unity in Community Forum received strong support by the department
you used to work for. Can this support continue with you coordinating
A: I dont think the city should drive the structure. Types like
our group will effectively promote social justice. Therefore they have
to be autonomous. The mayor is not free to determine what I do with
my personal time with a volunteer organization.
Q: Is there a power game about the groups leadership?
A: I am not interested in a power game. In my understanding the question
was raised at the last board meeting. Bob Johnson supposedly said the
mayor wanted Willard Walker (the interim Human Relations director) to
lead the coalition. Thats where the conflict came from.
Q: Doesnt the Unity in Community Forum have a constitution?
A: It doesnt. I had initially brought in different people to facilitate
the meeting and I encouraged group members to fulfill the leadership
role. That didnt happen. They said, We want you to do it.
Thats how I came to do it, not because I was hired by the city.
Q: Do you think an election could help to clarify the situation?
A: I think that would be a good idea. Weve discussed this issue
earlier. This is not something that has just come up because I was terminated.
Also Id be willing to meet with the mayor. My concern about the
coalition was so strong that even after Id been terminated, I
was willing to stand with the mayor in unity, to say, Weve
got to stay on our course.