Schor to reverse firefighter’s suspension over social media post

Bernero criticizes successor for handling of racial issues

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WEDNESDAY, May 1 — Lansing Mayor Andy Schor said today he will reverse a firefighter’s two-week unpaid suspension by the Fire Department over a Facebook post.

“The initial determination was that the social media post was not in compliance with the department’s policy,” Schor said in a mid-day statement. “After reviewing the post, it’s clear to me that his statements were directed at my policies and not the Fire Department.”

He said that if the firefighter, Michael Lynn Jr., files a grievance, “I will reverse the Fire Department’s determination.”

That grievance has already been filed, Lynn said today.

Lynn said he’s thankful that the mayor “took time to look into this issue and make it right.”

Lynn — who is suing the city for racial discrimination — was issued the punishment Monday for alleged violations of various Fire Department policies. It was based on a single Facebook post on April 14 that was critical of Schor, city records showed.

After City Pulse reported the suspension this morning, former Lansing mayor Virg Bernero publicly denounced Schor’s administration for the incident. It was the first time Bernero has spoken on actions by the Schor administration.

“The mayor is moving in the wrong direction,” Bernero said in a phone interview before Schor’s reversal. “You don’t solve racial tension by shooting the messenger, and that’s exactly what has been done here. You don’t blame the victim. You listen to the victim; You work with the victim. This is just so wrong on so many different levels.”

Bernero said he “could not stay quiet” after he read about Lynn’s suspension in City Pulse.

“To me, what we’re seeing on the national level — with Trump’s authoritarianism — we’re starting to see traces of that right here in Lansing right now,” Bernero said. “This is outrageous and must be undone."

Perhaps referring to Schor’s statement ito City Pulse yesterday that he was not involved in the suspension, Bernero said said it was time for Schor “to get involved.”

“He pushed me right over the edge,” said Bernero. “I could not stay quiet on this any longer.”

In his statement today, Schor said, “Any Lansing resident is welcome to express their opinion of the mayor and the administration. In this case, Mr. Lynn expressed his opinion of my inclusion and diversity initiatives and he’s welcome to do that.”

That deviates from Schor’s comments yesterday when he suggested Lynn might have posted to Facebook while “representing the city” or while on city-paid time. Records, however, show the post was made at about 10 a.m. on a Sunday. Lynn told City Pulse he only works weekdays.

Discipline reports instead pointed to other justifications.

Lynn’s post, which has since been deleted from his personal page, showed photos of Schor and African Americans that appear as part of a new marketing campaign on the Fire Department’s Facebook page. It included a sharp critique of the city’s recent efforts to highlight diversity among its ranks, and took aim at Schor.

“White liberals want diversity and inclusion until the black man walks in the room. Then it’s back to the same old shit,” Lynn posted to Facebook. “White men don’t get to choose what diversity and inclusion looks like.”

Lynn has waged a federal discrimination suit against the city since January. It alleges a pattern of racial discrimination and retaliation after a banana was found on the windshield of his assigned fire truck. Lynn said the 2016 incident demonstrated deliberate discrimination against him and another black firefighter.

Assistant Fire Chief Michael Tobin found Lynn had failed to “maintain the highest standards of integrity and reputation” based on his Facebook post. Copies of the investigative reports obtained by City Pulse suggested the post had clashed with several sections of Lansing’s “personal conduct” and social media policies. Among them:

— The language in the post impaired the “working relationships of this department” for which “loyalty and confidentiality are important.” The post could also “negatively affect the public perception of the department.”

— Social media guidelines also caution Fire Department employees that their social media posts — regardless of whether they’re made on or off the clock — are not protected under the First Amendment “if deemed detrimental to the department.” Chief Michael Mackey declined to elaborate on the justification behind them.

Other applicable sections to Lynn’s initial punishment included language on “maintaining the highest standards of integrity and reputation of the Department,” “publishing or posting false information” and “using someone else’s name, likeness or other personal attributes without that person’s permission.” Examples were not cited.

Lynn said he was “hopeful that today can mark a beginning to him accepting my invitation to allow me to have a seat at the table to help him address the outstanding issues in our city as well as within the Fire Department,” Lynn said.

After City Pulse published a series of stories that reported on various claims of racism within the Fire Department and the mayor’s subsequent steps to hire additional minority candidates, the city launched a new marketing campaign to highlight its diversity. Several black firefighters were prominently featured online.

Lynn, who also claimed the department has long fostered a culture of bigotry among employees, still has his doubts about the efficacy of the mayor’s efforts to diversify its ranks, including plans for a cadet program to attract a broader applicant pool. He previously described the recent social media campaign as “propaganda.”

"They want to make the department seem diverse by posting a bunch of pictures of minorities,” Lynn said yesterday in a phone interview. “I wanted to make the statement that it’s not going to fix the problem.”

Schor also caught criticism earlier this year after City Pulse reported that the 2018 class of firefighters included no African Americans or women. That resulted from a policy change that prioritized licensed paramedics rather than offer on-the-job training to EMTs. Diversity took a backseat amid concerns over a shortage of paramedics.

That eventually led to more criticism of Schor by former Fire Chief Randy Talifarro, an African American who was a carryover from Bernero’s administration. Talifarro contended Bernero’s administration, instead, had trained lower-ranking EMTs on the job in an effort to better expand opportunities for minority candidates.

Bernero decided to weigh in on that topic this morning as well.

“Mr. Lynn is owed an apology. He needs to be made whole for this egregious situation and then we can talk about healing. You don’t put up the window dressings of a diversity committee and meanwhile, in your day-to-day operations, move along in this authoritarian pattern. I’m not going to stay quiet on this any longer.”

Schor, for his part, did not include an apology in a statement that reflected his decision to reverse the suspension.

“I offered to assist the mayor and I still stand ready to assist him toward the healing and betterment of the city,” Bernero added later this afternoon. “Leadership must come from the top. Denial and defensiveness will not do.”

Visit lansingcitypulse.com for previous and continued coverage at the Lansing Fire Department.

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