Parks Commissioner faces removal for voting for diversity training

Posted at 8:47 PM, Jun 01, 2021

(WSYM) — A Livingston County man voted to approve a plan to provide Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion training for Huron Clinton Metroparks employees. As a result, the Livingston County Board of Commissioners voted against his reappointment to the Huron Clinton Metroparks Board.

“I found out about this toxic racist ideology being propagated by Metroparks,” said Wes Nakagiri, Livingston County Board Chairman, during a meeting on May 26.

Nakagiri called on fellow county board members to vote against reappointing Steve Williams to the Huron Clinton Metroparks board. The reason? He said Williams voted to approve a Diversity Equity & Inclusion Program.

Nakagiri said such programs are racist.

7 Action News interviewed Nakagiri, asking what specifically in the program was racist in his opinion. He said he had an email from one employee claiming the training insulted white people.

Huron Clinton Metroparks employs more than one thousand people. Nakagiri said the one employee who emailed him did not provide documentation of a specific insult.

Nakagiri said the decision to provide $6 million over seven years to fund The Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Centennial Park along Detroit’s Riverfront in a partnership with the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy is also racist.

“I read the minutes when they were talking about this,” said Nakagiri. “It is clear in the meeting minutes that the parks wanted to do more for social justice.”

“We have thirteen parks. Huron Clinton Metroparks. They follow the river basins. They circumnavigate the metro area. There is no metropark in Detroit. There never has been,” said Steve Williams during the meeting, responding to the allegations. “ People in the City of Detroit have been paying their millage, same as ours for eighty years. We’re in Livingston County. We have less than 200,000 people. They have almost four times that many in the city. This is not about race. This is about service to residents.”

Williams told the County Board of Commissioners he tries to vote with fairness in mind. He said the partnership will provide programs for children.

“Is anybody against teaching urban kids how to swim?” asked Williams.

Williams said the Diversity Equity and Inclusion program does not discriminate against white people and he asked questions of legal counsel to ensure that was the case.

He said, for example, the new director and deputy director were the best-qualified candidates, and they are both white.

“This is not some kind of quota system that they are implementing in the parks,” said Williams.

7 Action News asked Nakagiri to respond to the idea that it is about service to residents who pay taxes, not race.

“Livingston County is a donor county, so I would say if Wayne County was a donor county they might have a leg to stand on,” Nakagiri said.

But is Livingston County a donor county? 7 Action News reviewed the Huron Clinton Metroparks budgets.

Here is a look at how much is collected by each county in taxes:

  • Oakland: $12,941,291
  • Wayne: $8,817,507
  • Macomb: $6,237,818
  • Washtenaw: $3,854,737
  • Livingston: $2,038,199

Kensington Metroparks is in both Oakland and Livingston Counties. In 2020 Kensington had a budget of $5,093,470. Huron Meadows is in Livingston County. In 2020 Huron Meadows had a budget of $943,765.

In Wayne County, there is the Lake Erie Metropark which in 2020 had a budget of $1,602,718 plus the Lower Huron Metropark, Oakwoods Metropark, and Willow Metropark which are connected and had a combined budget of $1,822,640.

The Livingston County Board of Commissioners voted five to three to not reappoint Steve Williams specifically pointing to his decisions to approve Diversity, Equity & Inclusion training for park employees and funding for a park in Detroit.

“It is always disappointing to me when people have very narrow views,” said Amy McMillan, Huron Clinton Metroparks Director.

McMillan said she cannot comment on political decisions but will correct inaccuracies being spread about Huron Clinton Metroparks. She said diversity training aims to make sure the parks are a great place to work for people from different backgrounds and with special needs.

“Focus on the word inclusion. It is not excluding white people or anyone else. It is about including everyone and providing equitable opportunities for everyone,” said McMillan.

A replacement for Williams has not been selected.

Nakagiri said he recruited a woman who has been outspoken against diversity programs, Tami Carlone, to apply. She applied but did not meet the deadline set by the Board of Commissioners.

“Our citizens deserve representation that is more in tune with the values of our county,” said Nakagiri.

You can see the meeting here.