Civic leader demands update on ousted Lansing city official

Barbara Roberts Mason seeks apology to Joan Jackson Johnson

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FRIDAY, July 3 — A prominent Lansing civic leader is demanding the Schor administration update the status of the probe into Joan Jackson Johnson, whom it suspended in January to investigate alleged financial missteps as director of the Human Relations and Community Services Department.

“She was one of the most beloved and respected members of the mayor’s staff,” Barbara Roberts Mason said in a flier sent to the media and others yesterday.

“It is time to get an update on her status. To date, there has been no information provided to the public regarding any findings, and no charges have been filed. Nor has there been an apology.”

Mason was the first African American to be elected to statewide office, serving 24 years on the state Board of Education. Among her other activities, she was the longtime head of the Lansing Sister Cities Commission.

About three months ago, federal and state authorities were still investigating the alleged financial missteps that enabled city officials to push Jackson Johnson out of a job and prompted her to retire. That investigation has yet to come to a close, officials said.

In the meantime, Mason and Jackson Johnson are growing frustrated. If there was nothing to charge criminally, then why did city officials bother to remove her from the position? How long is this shadow of allegedly wrongdoing going to haunt Jackson Johnson? They’re questions that Jackson Johnson frequently asks, even months after she retired from the job.

None of them have been answered.

“The thing that’s really been so puzzling is that if they have something to put out there, if I did something wrong, it’s been almost seven months and I haven’t heard anything,” Jackson Johnson told City Pulse today. “There have been no findings. How long is this going to go on? I’ve been saying this since Day One: This is a witch hunt, and I’m tired of it. The city just won’t leave this alone.”

Jackson Johnson was suspended as department director on Jan. 8. Mayor Andy Schor said he didn’t have many options after discovering that federal grant funding had flowed directly from city offices to Jackson Johnson’s own housing-focused nonprofit, One Church One Family.

An apparent conflict of interest — that Jackson Johnson has since admitted to — was enough reason to temporarily suspend her while city officials handed the probe off to law enforcement. Jackson Johnson has since retired, but that investigation has lingered on for several months.

The U.S. Department of Justice demanded a series of records tied to One Church One Family from Jackson Johnson in May. She said she complied to the best of her ability but hasn’t heard back from investigators since. No charges were issued. No cash has needed to be returned.

Even the court-appointed lawyer now running the nonprofit hasn’t spotted any irregularities.

“I just don’t think there are any real problems here,” that attorney, Thomas Woods,  told City Pulse this year.

Meanwhile, Jackson Johnson’s frustrations are beginning to spread to others in Lansing.

“I just think that with everything going on, and with more people leaving city government, we need answers,” Roberts Mason added. “I feel bad that she doesn’t know the status of all this.”

In retirement, Jackson Johnson continues to serve the community through volunteer efforts with Advent House, feeding and clothing local homeless and much more. It’s not uncommon to spot Jackson Johnson hard at work in Lansing, giving back to the city that abandoned her.

Schor said a report on “contract irregularities” tied to Jackson Johnson has been turned over to federal authorities, as legally required, and that any status update would come from authorities. Officials at the Western District of Michigan have declined comment about the case altogether.

“Dr. Joan Jackson Johnson did great work for the city and its neediest residents for many years, and has retired from the city,” Schor explained to City Pulse in a text message today. “When the city hears finality regarding the situation, we will provide to the public.”

Said Jackson Johnson: “I’m still out working with agencies and helping this city, and I will continue to do that, but it still feels like I have this shadow hanging over my head. It’s just not fair.”

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