Accusations of workplace toxicity and veiled racism against black employees are boiling up again against Lansing Mayor Andy Schor as activists continue to call for his immediate resignation.
In a series of explosive interviews on the local podcast “Merica 20 to Life Live,” two former black employees of the mayor’s administration contended this week their ideas for diversity were diminished and alleged that black employees were routinely dismissed.
Former Chief Information Officer Collin Boyce, who resigned last year, said he and other black employees who dared to challenge Schor’s authority were quickly pushed aside or fired. Boyce said he only resigned after Schor refused to value his work and “forced” him to leave.
“This isn’t Ku Klux Klan racism, you know with white sheets and burning crosses. It’s ‘Negro: You have to stay in your place,” Boyce said. “And if you don’t leave when they want you to leave, then they’re going to find a way to nudge you out the door.”
Boyce, who was one of the city’s highest paid officials, 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.”
His story 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.
Boyce, who works now in Arizona, recalled suggesting to Schor that his administration needed to improve relations with the black community. Schor responded defensively and flatly dismissed the concept, Boyce alleged. He also claimed that Schor was influential in the disproportionate removal of several other black employees during the transition from former Mayor Virg Bernero’s administration in early 2018.
“Part of the reason I remained silent is if you say something, they’re going to assassinate your character. They have a press release ready for you, and they’re going to attack you and your family,” Boyce said, alleging that several staffers were targeted by Schor.
Boyce said that many of the employees who left the city since Schor took office all share a common theme: They’re African American. And they didn’t have problems before Schor arrived.
“I didn’t like how I was being treated there,” Boyce told City Pulse earlier this year. “It got to the point where I was taking so much blame for every problem and constantly defending myself. The environment became so toxic to where it started to have an impact on my health.”
Planning Director Bob Johnson and Human Resources Director Mary Riley weren’t rehired after Schor took office. Former Housing Commission Director Martell Armstrong, who did not report to Schor, resigned under pressure. Boyce said he was pressured out of the job. All are African Americans.
Boyce also said that Schor’s administration “targeted” former Director of Human Relations and Community Services Joan Jackson Johnson, another black employee who left under Schor. During a cabinet meeting, technology staff were asked to comb her online records, Boyce said.
“The goal was to find anomalies and attack her,” Boyce explained during this week’s interview.
Federal and state authorities are still investigating the alleged financial missteps that enabled city officials to push Jackson Johnson out of a job and into an early retirement last year. But six months later, no criminal charges have been filed and no problems have surfaced.
The other former city employee to speak out this week was Natasha Atkinson, who worked on Schor’s staff as scheduling and events coordinators. Atkinson, a black woman, was hired into his office last August and fired in February without explanation. City officials have since declined to say why.
Atkinson alleged that her ideas for diversity were dismissed, white staffers ignored her and that her desk was ransacked at least twice. And Schor only fired her when she voiced complaints, she said.
“As black people, we deal with these situations every day. Most of these covert racist acts happen over our heads,” Atkinson said. “We don’t carry it as a chip on our shoulder. It’s just when it becomes so heavy that you can’t bear it anymore. It just wasn’t an open place.”
Atkinson also contended Schor was dismissive when Black Lives Matter activists attempted to confront him over black teenagers who were violently arrested by local police last year. And when she tried to step in to offer help, she said Schor and his staff only diminished those concerns.
“Black Lives Matter is just a dog without a bone,” Atkinson claimed a mayoral staffer told her. She said not only did it compare the activists to dogs, it said they did not have a real purpose.
A few months later, a few members of the mayor’s staff were loading new music with mostly white artists into the city’s downtown playlist. When she suggested some more diverse tunes, Schor’s staff only dismissed the idea. The response was just “negativity,” Atkinson recounted.
“It’s just not an open place where you can have these conversations,” Atkinson added.
After watching unhealthy racial undertones develop in Schor’s office for months, Atkinson said she suggested the creation of an office or city department dedicated toward inclusion. The idea never generated any results. And that’s when the Mayor’s Office became real quiet, she said.
“None of the white people were talking to me at all,” Atkinson said.
Atkinson later arrived at her desk to find her belongings scattered across the floor, she said. All of the drawers were opened. Schor suggested that a cleaning crew might have done it. But that wasn’t the first time her desk was trashed, she said. It would happen again before she was fired.
“This time I had a witness,” Atkinson said. “They said this is internal. And this is personal.”
Schor has mostly dodged questions on those “personnel” issues. But when asked about recent grievances from former staff again earlier this week, he flatly refused to acknowledge a problem.
“I treasure the diverse voices of my staff and cabinet. They are hardworking and dedicated people focused on serving the residents of Lansing, and I learn from them every day. I seek feedback and advice from all of them, without micromanaging so they can do their jobs.”
As for the several people of color that have suggested otherwise? “My team and I take the policies and ethical standards of the city very seriously, and we follow them,” Schor added.