(This story was updated at 4:31 p.m.)
TUESDAY, Feb. 16 — Lansing Mayor Andy Schor is facing criticism from one of his own advisory boards, which claimed that Schor ignored recommendations for social equity and hasn’t done enough to address “rampant issues racism and discrimination” in the capital city.
The Mayor’s Inclusion and Diversity Advisory Council passed a resolution yesterday that slammed the mayor for refusing to take “real action” to mitigate systemic racism in Lansing. It also called for the City Council to formally reestablish the board outside of Schor’s purview.
“The mayor mostly ignored a series of detailed recommendations MIDAC provided to help address systemic racism in the city of Lansing, both within and outside of city government,” according to a statement released yesterday. “Absent real action from the Schor administration, MIDAC’s resolution also calls on the Lansing City Council to work with MIDAC to introduce and pass resolutions and ordinances that finally address systemic racism in the city of Lansing.”
Frustrations have long simmered among members of the advisory council after Schor sidelined the group last year and told its chairman, Randy Watkins, to suspend its meetings until sometime next year. As a result, at least six members have resigned from the board.
The panel penned a fiery letter to Schor in September after he told Watkins to cease all meetings and combine forces with the newly launched — and much more secretive — Mayor’s Racial Justice and Equity Alliance — which is slated to give an update on its work today.
The members of the original workgroup contended the suspension of their meetings — which could last until September 2021 — would only work to “inhibit and halt progress made by the council to address diversity in the city,” according to the letter, obtained by City Pulse last year.
Schor then explained that “one unified effort” would lead to more meaningful reforms. But now, members of that board would rather answer directly to the City Council rather than the mayor.
“MIDAC’s resolution also requests that the Lansing City Council take steps to formally establish MIDAC as an official city board, rather than a mayoral advisory committee, and appoint its long-serving members to the official board,” according to this week’s statement from the board.
The mayor’s first executive order in 2018 established the original Inclusion and Diversity Advisory Council and until the formation of the new alliance, it was the only appointed advisory board reporting to Schor specifically on issues like discrimination and racial justice in the city.
In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death and amid a continued call for police divestment, Schor announced in July that his newly formed Racial Justice and Equity Alliance would be tasked with examining many of those same city policies and racial biases for at least the next year.
Officials said formal recommendations from that newer group are expected to arrive in May. But Schor’s original diversity team questioned the efficacy of that group — labeling its members as “40 high-profile local political players, corporate CEOs and campaign donors” this week.
“When MIDAC members objected to being sidelined, Teresa Bingman, a diversity consultant hired with city tax dollars who also works for a firm that handles the mayor’s political campaigns, told the media that MIDAC members were ‘bitter’ and ‘self-centered,’” officials said this week.
That alliance includes more than 40 people — including Watkins — who work in tandem with Bingman, an attorney and public relations specialist who is being paid $63,000 to serve as a consultant for Schor’s administration. She also serves as a senior consultant at Vanguard Public Affairs. That firm — and its president — helped with fundraising and other Schor election efforts.
All of the members of that alliance have also been asked to sign “confidentiality agreements” that prevent disclosure of their discussions. The MIDAC has argued that the “closed process” has only worked to build up the same barriers which the alliance is charged to tear down.
Schor responded: “Conversations were requested to be kept between the members, in order to have a free flow of information. The individuals on this committee are volunteers and many are private, and may not feel comfortable sharing thoughts and ideas as freely if their personal comments are in the news media. That is the reason Bingman asked for confidentiality.”
The recommendations that flowed from those discussions are expected to be made public.
MIDAC members also complained last year about a lengthy list of recommended reforms, including the creation of an internal diversity and inclusion office, that were shelved by Schor for months. They also claimed Schor rolled out his alliance without input from the advisory group.
“We were displaced from that process. Our contribution as a committee has been described as being basically complaining and not positive enough,” a board member wrote in her resignation letter. “Addressing racism and inequity is not going to be comfortable. It’s not supposed to be. Our responsibility is to communicate what the community wants and needs and advise the Mayor on how to meet those needs. We are not here to make the Mayor comfortable.”
Schor, for his part, has said he responded positively to the Council’s proposal for a diversity and inclusion coordinator in an email sent in 2019 but noted that email never made it back to the Council members. He didn’t intentionally ignore the suggestion, he said. And budget constraints in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic only knocked it lower and lower on the city priority list.
“I thought I had responded to those things in February, but either they didn’t get it or I didn’t send it. Then, we had the shutdown in March,” Schor said in July. “I thought communication was getting better. I’d like to see this Council work alongside the Alliance on a lot of these issues.”
Schor has also said he plans to elevate his original advisory council to a permanent city board after the Equity Alliance finishes up its planning process, putting it in charge of implementing a long-term plan when the 40-member alliance eventually dissolves within the next year, he said.
The Equity Alliance will give the first public presentation of its work since its inception at noon today. The virtual Zoom presentation requires pre-registration to attend. Click here to register or click here to log on to the call using City Pulse’ registration link that was sent on Monday.
Schor responded in a statement this afternoon: "The Executive Committee of MRJEA has invited all of the members of the Mayor’s Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council to be a part of MRJEA and its workgroups repeatedly, and some have chosen to be a part of this monumental effort. We need to be fighting for racial justice, and we need to do this together as one voice.”