MONDAY, Jan. 13 — Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office said today it plans to review a file the city of Lansing has submitted on its now-suspended human relations director, Joan Jackson Johnson.
A spokeswoman for Nessel’s office earlier this afternoon confirmed that it had received a file from the city of Lansing regarding alleged improprieties by Johnson, who was placed on paid administrative leave Friday.
“We’re in the process of assigning the file to an assistant attorney general who will review it and make recommendations in terms of the next steps,” she said. “We have not yet launched an investigation, but we’re reviewing the file. It came from the city of Lansing and it apparently came in sometime late Friday afternoon.”
Jackson Johnson, who has served as director of the Human Relations and Community Service Department since 2006, remains on paid leave after city officials said a recent forensic audit uncovered “issues with contracts.”
Details about the probe are scarce. The AG’s office isn’t releasing further details pending a possible investigation. Lansing Mayor Andy Schor also declined to elaborate about the scope of the forensic audit, citing personnel confidentiality. Schor kept Jackson Johnson, who was first appointed by Schor’s predecessor, Virg Bernero. She earned an annual salary of $129,289 last year, records show.
Jackson Johnson thinks the city made a mistake. She has since labeled the situation as a “witch hunt” against her.
She told City Pulse Friday that she was “pissed off” and that hadn’t taken anybody’s money for personal gain.
“There is nothing financial going on,” Jackson Johnson declared last week. “I’ve been told there’s a conflict of interest with my position in different organizations. I was working on that. After a while, you have to think they’re on a witch hunt against me. I’m not sure I really understand anything.”
Jackson Johnson, who couldn’t be reached for additional comment today, said Friday she suspected her departure was triggered by her involvement with the nonprofit One Church One Family. Jackson Johnson registered it with the state in 2008 and served as its chairwoman before she resigned in December 2019.
“I was told I couldn’t be involved in both entities, but there was no financial impropriety going on,” Jackson Johnson said. “I needed to divorce myself from that organization given its ties to the city, and I was working on that. I didn’t want to dissolve the organization. We’ve been trying to find other people to take on these roles.”
One Church One Family is designed to provide housing to those in need, according to state records. It also helps facilitate the “rapid rehousing” program for local families with financial support from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Records show it received at least $500,000 in grant funding in recent years.
Lansing’s charter defines a conflict of interest as an avenue for a city employee to derive “any income or benefit, directly or indirectly, from a contract with the city or from any city action.” Employees are asked to report any alleged conflicts on an annual basis. If one exists, employees are barred from commingling those related affairs.
An affidavit filed by Jackson Johnson last year noted that she received no personal financial gain from her nonprofit and hasn’t generated more than $2,500 in annual income outside of her post with the city of Lansing. The extent of Lansing’s ties to One Church One Family, however, aren’t clear. A records request has been filed.
Jackson Johnson, in the meantime, maintained that city coffers have not been used to support her nonprofit.
Lansing City Council’s Committee of the Whole meets at 6 tonight to discuss an undisclosed personnel issue, presumably Jackson Johnson’s departure. The local community has since rallied behind Jackson Johnson as the situation continues to unfold. Flyers distributed earlier today encouraged residents to attend the meeting.
“Why is another African American gone from the administration of the city of Lansing?” the flyer reads. “Joan has done more for the people in the city of Lansing than anyone. She looks out for the poor, the downtrodden, the sick, the homeless and the hungry. She needs the support of this community. There is only one JJJ.”
While on administrative leave, Chief Labor Negotiator Nicholas Tate will temporarily fill Jackson Johnson’s role as the director of the human resources department.
Visit lansingcitypulse.com for previous coverage and additional details as they become available.