Lansing Mayor Andy Schor is volunteering for implicit bias training — and mandating the same for his staff — in response to recent accusations of veiled racism that allegedly created a toxic environment at the Mayor’s Office and led to at least three Black employees leaving their jobs.
“I don’t think anybody thinks they’re racist, but everyone has their own experiences, and some people don’t realize when they do things that may have connotations to others,” Schor explained to City Pulse. “I’ve never walked in the shoes of an African American man. I don’t know what it’s like. I need to learn about implicit biases that I may have without realizing it.”
In a series of explosive interviews on the local podcast “Merica 20 to Life Live,” two former Black employees of Schor’s administration — former Chief Information Officer Collin Boyce and former events coordinator Natasha Atkinson — alleged this month that their ideas for diversity were diminished and claimed that Black employees were routinely dismissed in Schor’s office.
Boyce, who resigned last year, said he and other black employees who dared to challenge Schor’s authority were quickly pushed aside or fired. Atkinson, who was fired for unnamed reasons this year, alleged that white staffers ignored her and that her desk was ransacked.
Until this week, Schor treated questions on the matter as a “personnel issue” and insisted that policies and procedures on diversity and inclusion have always been followed in his office. Now, while he still won’t elaborate on specifics, Schor is taking steps to address the concerns.
“I have direct control over my office, so I’m going to make sure my office has the training,” Schor said, noting plans to eventually expand the implicit bias training to all departments. “We all really need to understand that we don’t know everything, because we haven’t walked in their shoes.”
Boyce, who was one of the city’s highest paid officials during his tenure, contended Schor didn’t often consult with him on key administrative decisions, only speaking to him once or twice a year. And the few times they spoke, the situation was “hostile.” Schor didn’t deny a disconnect.
His story also largely mirrors that of former Fire Chief Randy Talifarro, who told City Pulse last year that Black department heads were “prejudged or completely disregarded” by Schor in 2018.
“I think early on, when I first got into office, I struggled a bit with the best way to work with department directors,” Schor explained. “I came in with the thought they’d run their department and come to me when needed. But I learned that a lot of them really wanted more than that. They wanted more direct conversation and communication than a weekly cabinet meeting.”
“I’ve adjusted to make sure I’m speaking with all of them regularly,” Schor added. “That was a growing process for me to understand how to effectively communicate with department heads.”
Boyce argued that many of the employees who left the city since Schor took office all share a common theme: They’re African American and didn’t have problems before Schor arrived in 2018. Schor has maintained that race didn’t play a factor with any employees who were fired or resigned.
“I’m still listening to everything I’m hearing,” Schor added. “In terms of our cabinet and our leadership, I have complete faith in them to provide me with advice not only about their department but also their experiences. We maintain a diverse cabinet. I’m not going to address each individual because, honestly, it’s a personnel issue and it would be inappropriate to do.”
Atkinson also alleged that Schor’s staff misused city credit cards to purchase expensive lunches and drinks during the early afternoon. It’s OK, they told her. The receipts just get “lost,” she said. And after Atkinson tried reporting it higher up the chain, she found herself out of a job, she said.
“Drinking in the Mayor’s Office is not unusual,” Atkinson had also alleged earlier this month.
Schor appeared skeptical, but said his office will launch an investigation into the allegations. He contended that dining out on lavish staff meals is incredibly rare, emphasizing that he’s much more likely to eat a granola bar or microwave a TV dinner during lengthier days at the office.
“Sometimes we have meetings and go out, but I don’t believe we abuse anything,” he said.
As for the booze? “There has never been alcohol in this office,” Schor told City Pulse. “I’ve never seen nor heard or nor would I accept any alcohol in this office.”
City Pulse has filed a request under Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act to review credit card statements and purchasing card histories at the Mayor’s Office. Schor said the results of that request will be provided “soon” and will be reviewed in tandem with city officials for misconduct.