After delays, civil rights panel could name new leader next week

    Ken Coleman

    After almost a year and a series of delays, the Michigan Civil Rights Commission (MCRC) is poised to name its next executive director on Monday.  

    The announcement comes after the body met Wednesday and interviewed seven candidates vying to serve as the top Michigan Department of Civil Rights administrative official. After the interviews, commissioners voted to deliberate and vote on the candidates at a special meeting to be held virtually. 

    “What’s important is that we had an incredibly strong and diverse group of candidates,” said MCRC Member Portia Roberson. “I was pleased.”

    Over the course of the five-hour Zoom session, the following candidates were interviewed:

    • Toni Sellers-Pitts, director of the office of Affirmative Action and Equal Employment Opportunity investigations and hiring at Georgia State University 
    • Rhonda Powell, statewide operations director of We The People MI
    • Alicia Skillman, executive director of the city of Detroit Board of Ethics 
    • James White, Detroit Police Department assistant chief
    • Felipe Lopez Sustaita, Hispanic/Latino Commission of Michigan executive director
    • John Johnson, Jr., Michigan Legislative Black Caucus executive director
    • Nasser Beydoun, Arab American Civil Rights League chair

    Civil Rights Commission votes to fire Arbulu

    The Michigan Civil Rights Commission was created by the Michigan Constitution of 1963. It is charged with investigating alleged discrimination against any person because of religion, race, color or national origin, genetic information, sex, age, marital status, height, weight, arrest record, and physical and mental disability.

    Mary Engelman has been serving as Michigan Department of Civil Rights interim director since November. She replaced Agustin Arbulu, who was fired in August 2019 after making objectifying comments to describe women to a male staffer, including, “Check out her ass.”

    In June, the only candidate in the running for the executive director position failed to secure a majority vote. A 4-4 tie meant that Harvey Hollins, an aide to GOP former Gov. Rick Snyder, would not serve as the department’s next leader. The commission then reopened its search process. 

    Ken Coleman
    Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.