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East Lansing mayor and city manager suggest racism may be reason behind anonymous complaint

April 26, 2023
East Lansing Mayor Ron Bacon sits at the council meeting at the Hannah Community Center on Jan. 18, 2022.
East Lansing Mayor Ron Bacon sits at the council meeting at the Hannah Community Center on Jan. 18, 2022. —
Photo by Sheldon Krause | The State News

The East Lansing City Council approved measures to resolve complaints from an anonymous letter delivered to the City’s Human Resources department which accused council members of conducting business unethically.

The first measure approved was a joint statement that set forth the council’s intentions to hire an independent entity to review allegations in the letter.

City Attorney Anthony Chubb will serve as the city’s representative in the investigation.

Chubb's appointment was used as an example of "poor management," by the Council, according to the anonymous writer.

“It is our sincere goal that this review gets to the bottom of any legitimately significant issues that have been raised, once and for all,” the joint statement said.

The council plans to ask for an update on the investigation 90 days after it begins if they have not received a final report by that point.

East Lansing Mayor Ron Bacon said he welcomes any scrutiny related to his work as it pertains to the City Charter or politics of the city, but he won’t tolerate the letter, “trying to lump people into some type of coalition or cabal based on race, gender or anything else.”

Bacon said there’s elements of the letter that are a direct attack on specific council members’ demographics.

Bacon said he doesn’t consider the “veiled racism” in the letter to be “veiled” anymore.

Bacon said he sees a level of coordination and cooperation that indicates the individuals involved in writing the letter are receiving information prior to the time that it’s available to be requested via the Freedom of Information Act.

“This is not going to stand, the individual and personal attacks on individual character, the irreparable damage, potential damage to reputation,” Bacon said.

The anonymous complaint mentions by name the city’s director of diversity, equity and inclusion 13 times, stating that the city staff has been given the impression that her connections to the council and mayor are allegedly being used by the mayor to ignore the city charter and go around the city manager to influence personnel decisions.

“Direct or indirect attack on the character of members of the staff and their politicization will not be part of how we do business here in East Lansing,” Bacon said.

The second measure approved was a resolution to hire J. Randall Secontine, former Oakland County prosecutor, to conduct an independent review of the anonymous complaint. The resolution provides that Secontine will be compensated at a rate of $295 per hour, not to exceed $30,000, to perform the investigation.

Chubb said he did not find any conflict when reviewing Secontine’s history.

Chubb said that when the investigation is done, he will work with human reosurces to build a process through which complaints can be filed.

“Anonymous complaints are not the way to go,” Bacon said. “I want to make sure staff and people are comfortable with their ability to be candid without fear of recourse or retaliation.”

Interim City Manager Randy Talifarro said he recognizes a pattern between the individuals being scrutinized in the attack and “what they look like”.

Talifarro said these types of allegations are insulting because if they are investigated over the course of three months and the result is that there was no merit to the allegations, then the person being targeted lives under scrutiny.

“I’m sorry, I know I’m supposed to be quiet and let the process go, but it’s going to be 90 days,” Talifarro said.

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Bacon said the anonymity of the individuals involved in the investigation is critical so that they can be shielded.

Councilmember Dana Watson said she is sorry that the letter was able to single out the DEI director.

“We are elected and we understand that we are in the public eye and under public scrutiny, but to specifically call out a person? I’m saddened that we couldn’t shield this director,” Watson said.

Bacon said that he wants the council to come out of this with a solution that doesn’t place future city councils or city employees in the crosshairs of anonymous complaints.

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