West Bloomfield Township Officials Accused of Discrimination in Recall Effort

  • Written by:

A hearing will be held next week on petitions to recall Catherine Saughnessy, Howard Rosenberg and Lawrence Brown.
By Beth Dalbey (Patch Staff) March 4, 2015 at 3:31am
West Bloomfield Township Supervisor Michele Economou Ureste says the board has systematically discriminated against minority employees. (Patch file photo)
A West Bloomfield resident who says township governance is a “hot mess” is leading a recall drive against township trustees accused of discrimination against Chaldeans and African-Americans.

At the center of the discrimination allegations, which surfaced in January, is township clerk Catherine Shaughnessy, who is accused of calling Chaldeans “crooks.” Chaldeans Americans are descendents of people from the northern Tigris-Euphrates Valley, currently part of Iraq. The majority of Chaldean Americans live in Detroit and the surrounding metro area.

Shaughnessy’s comment was allegedly made as the township was poised to remove Chaldean American Zia Oram from his job as an executive assistant to supervisor Michele Economou Ureste because he doesn’t have a college degree.

Ureste told WJBK-TV that “one of our elected officials basically wanted me not to put any nominations forward for Chaldeans on boards and commissions, that they would not be confirmed or ratified.”

Ureste alleged that racist practices are being carried out against minority applicants and workers by board members. She said the three members voted against confirming seven her planning commission appointments who were minorities.

The item regarding Oram’s removal never came up, but the controversy lingered.

Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce president Martin Manna condemned the incident in a statement, saying “there have been allegations that a member of this body said Chaldeans cannot be trusted, Chaldeans are not people we should hire within this township, that Chaldeans are a bunch of crooks.”

Shaughnessy has denied the allegations, and said “there is no proof.”

“We need to get at the truth,”she said.

Board members also have denied allegations that pictures of monkeys were placed around an employee’s workspace in an act of discrimination.

“The board is a hot mess,” Charlene Mitchell-Rodgers, who has lived in West Bloomfield for nearly three decades, told WJBK-TV. “When we watch these meetings it is like watching one of the ‘Real Housewives’ reality shows.”

Mitchell-Rodgers, who is spearheading the recall drive to boot Shaughnessy and board members Howard Rosenberg and Lawrence Brown, also said the board has repeatedly violated the open meetings law.

A hearing on the recall petitions will be heard next week. If approved, a board member could be removed with 4,000 signatures.

In the meantime, a Diversity Committee appointed by the board on Monday will begin to examine the claims to discrimination and racism to determine if they have merit.

The Arab American News reports that the Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce is interested in establishing an anti-defamation group to defend the approximately 120,000 Chaldeans living in the region.

However, the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee of Michigan (ADC-MI) represented the interests of a Chaldean American who was accused in a series of assaults in West Bloomfield in 2012.

» Get the West Bloomfield Patch daily newsletter and e-alerts.