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Third city board member may quit over Rhodes-Reed

By DANIEL STURM

Another member of the advisory board to the Lansing Human Relations and Community Services Department is considering resigning because of the dismissal of its director, Genice Rhodes-Reed.

The Rev. Kirklin Hall, who has been on the board for two years, said Tuesday night there is a “high probability” he will resign by the end of the week.

“Everything worked fine for two years. Genice Rhodes-Reed was doing an excellent job. And suddenly I get a call from our chairman telling me that she (Rhodes-Reed) was let go.

“I was shocked,” Hall, the pastor of Galilee Baptist church, said. “Right now I don’t understand what’s going on at City Hall. I don’t want to comment on if it was racism. I just don’t know enough so far. And a lot of people in my church also ask the question what happened at City Hall.

“The board members should have been informed by the administration. I don’t know what the reasons for Genice Rhodes-Reed’s dismissal are.”

The board’s chairman, Robert Egan, and another member, Noel Capacio, resigned after Rhodes-Reed was forced to resign on May 23. Egan, who resigned on May 29, accused the administration of “subtle racism” and cited the removal of four top-ranking African Americans: Rhodes-Reed’s three predecessors and the mayor’s former special assistant, Freddie Thomas, all of whom were fired or forced to resign. Capacio quit in mid-June.

Hollister has said nothing publicly about the dismissals. His chief of staff, Bob Johnson, told the Lansing State Journal last month that the issue with Rhodes-Reed was poor performance.

Board members apparently disagreed, at least to some extent. In a June 6 letter, they thanked Rhodes-Reed for her service, called her leadership “key to the continual evolution of the board” and praised her “dedication and commitment” to efforts to promote a no-tolerance policy on ethnic discrimination after the Sept. 11 terrorism attacks.

Meanwhile, concern spread to the editorial pages of the Lansing State Journal. Last Thursday, Suzanne Elms-Barclay of the LSJ’s community advisory board strongly criticized the administration’s decision to dismiss Rhodes-Reed: In a reference to Hollister’s civil rights activities as a young man, she wrote: “The message seems to be ‘I marched with Dr. King, but I am unable to treat African Americans with respect and dignity when they disagree with me.’” Elms-Barclay pointed out that anyone who knew Rhodes-Reed “knew that performance is not at the heart of this issue, which makes this the worst sort of racism.”

If Hall resigns, half of the board’s six seats will be vacant. The mayor’s executive assistant, David Wiener, said the city has received only one application for the board.

Joe Graves Jr., the mayor’s former chief of staff, said, “It’s going to be a challenge finding appropriate people, given the controversy around Genice Rhodes-Reed.”

The board’s secretary, Amy Hodgin, said she plans to stay on, to continue the “good work we’ve done so far.” She said nothing could be accomplished by her resignation. But Hodgin again criticized the way Genice Rhodes-Reed was dismissed. She said that not informing the board was a “slap in the face.”

However, Hodgin pointed out that some members of Lansing’s black community disapproved of Rhodes-Reed’s performance.

Gordon Wilson, vice president of the Lansing chapter of the NAACP said, “The only thing I can tell you is there’s a lot of bullshit going on here.” Wilson said Rhodes-Reed had not contacted the NAACP, and “we won’t get involved in this unless she fills out a formal consent form and makes a formal complaint.”

Joe Graves Jr., who was let go from the city in July 2001 after his arrest for drunken driving, said the fact that only a few people raised their voices shows there was “an absence of any coordinated group of people, particularly people of color, who want to get involved with issues related to social justice.” This was different in the early 1970s, he said, when local African-American ministers formed the Ministerial Alliance, led by Joe Graves’ father, the pastor of Mount Zion Baptist Church. “They spoke with one voice, and they were very concerned about social justice.” Today he thinks many pastors are more concerned about building churches and are therefore reliant on the city for various permits. “I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that there are some people that are intimidated by the general authority.”

Last Friday Graves won a battle in his appeal against the city’s opposition to his application for unemployment benefits. Administrative Law Judge Donald J. Kennedy argued against the Hollister administration’s decision to deny Graves’ benefits. Since the employer “was not present at the hearing” and there was “no competent evidence” regarding any misconduct, the Judge concluded that Graves was not disqualified from benefits. The city has until Aug. 19 to appeal.

Rhodes-Reed is now in a situation similar to Joe Graves’. After being fired and with no severance package, she applied for unemployment and was turned down. Graves commented: “This action is about being vindictive and harassing – in simple words: You take my job, you terminate my salary and now you don’t even want me to get food, by receiving unemployment.”



 

 

 

 

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