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Saturday, September 19, 2020

Commissioner under fire for using N-word

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A Leelanau County leader is under fire after using the N-word during a public meeting this week.

According to officials at Tuesday’s meeting, another commissioner asked him why he wasn’t wearing a face mask. He said “Well, this whole thing is because of them n—–s down in Detroit.”

Board chairman Bob Joyce told him he couldn’t say that, and he responded “I can say anything I want. Black Lives Matter has everything to do with taking the country away from us.”Screen Shot 2020 08 06 At 5.07.11 Pm

Now, shock, anger and hurt are rippling through the county and the public is demanding his resignation or removal.

“It’s completely irresponsible, aside from being morally corrupt. I’m appalled. I think he should step down,” said Northern Michigan Anti-Racism Task force member Holly Bird.

For task force member Tya Harrison, this is just proof the group have a long way to go to promoting equality and equity in the region.

“He made a racial comment and then did not try to walk it back and further stick his foot in his mouth, and he needs to have some type of consequences, he needs to be reprimanded,” said Harrison.

In Michigan, road commissioners can either be appointed by county government, or they can be elected by the public.

Because Eckerle is an elected official in Leelanau County, the road commission cannot remove or fire him on their own. He either needs to resign, or he has to be recalled by the public.

“It would take about 3,300 signatures to get [a recall petition] on the ballot,” said County Administrator Chet Janik. “The other option, under the Michigan constitution, is the governor can remove an elected official.”

This week, Governor Whitmer called racism a public health crisis.

Right now, it’s too late to get any initiative on the November ballot because the filing deadline was at the end of June. The recall would have to happen in 2021.

The road commission is evaluating their options and will host a public meeting about the issue on Monday at 1 p.m.

“We’re working behind the scenes to see what we can do,” said Joyce. “The road commission does not have the authority to recall him….There is no room for that kind of vulgarity or racism.”

Even if you take Eckerle out of the road commission, you can’t take the road commission off of Eckerle Road. The commission building sits on a street named after his family.

So far, Eckerle has not made any public apologies for his words.

Even if he did, the sting of the impact will linger.

“He’s not the only person that thinks that way. So, to me this is people are seeing people of colors reality here,” said Anti-Racism task force member Marshall Collins Jr.

The task force is asking everyone to show up and speak out on these issues.

There are a number of ways people are mobilizing:

  • A new Facebook group has formed to oust him.
  • Activists have started a Change.Org petition calling for his removal
  • The Northern Michigan Anti-Racism Task Force is posting updates on their page, plus resources about education, allyship and activism. They are encouraging people to speak up to Leelanau County government, and attend Monday’s Road Commission meeting.

The County Road Association of Michigan issued the following statement:

“These comments do not reflect the high character and values of the many hard-working, essential workers who serve their communities daily at Michigan’s 83 county road agencies. Our commissioners, managers and staff hold themselves to the highest standards, and we expect that the Leelanau County community will take the steps needed to address this situation going forward.”

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