Chief Financial Officer Jim Bonsall (City of Detroit website)
Detroit— Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr said Tuesday it’s clear “new leadership is needed” as he announced the resignation of the city’s chief financial officer following an investigation into claims he made racially insensitive comments.
Orr said Jim Bonsall stepped down following a Tuesday afternoon meeting. The CFO previously had issued a public apology and had been on paid leave since Thursday.
“Jim has made great improvements in how the city handles its cash and finance operations in the short time he has been here, but it is clear that new leadership is needed to continue to move the city of Detroit forward,” Orr said. “I thank Jim for putting the needs of the city and its residents first, and for his dedicated service.”
Orr’s office will conduct a search to replace Bonsall, who was hired by the city in July.
Bonsall has said he was sorry for offending co-workers over comments made during a recent meeting about the city’s Angels’ Night, adding it was “never my intention.”
Greg Bowens, a spokesman for AFSCME Local 25, said following the controversy surrounding earlier remarks by the emergency manager, there's an emerging pattern of negative comments against Detroiters by the current leadership.
“Mr. Bonsall should have never felt entitled or comfortable enough to make disparaging remarks and neither should have Kevyn Orr,” Bowens said. “Maybe this is a step in the right direction.”
Following an August interview with the Wall Street Journal, Orr was accused of implying Detroit city workers were rich and lazy. Orr later apologized, saying, “I was not as sensitive as perhaps I should have been.”
City Council president Saunteel Jenkins said Bonsall’s resignation was “very appropriate.”
“With all of the very difficult challenges facing the city right now, we don’t need an additional unnecessary challenge, such as cultural or racial insensitivity,” she said.
The probe was conducted after city Treasurer Cheryl Johnson sent a letter to Mayor Dave Bing and other officials complaining that Bonsall “has created a hostile work environment.”
Johnson declined to comment Tuesday on Bonsall’s resignation.
The letter by Johnson, who is black and was recently demoted from the city’s finance director to treasurer, alleges Bonsall, who is white, asked if he could ride with a Detroit police officer while patroling on Angels’ Night and she told him he could ride with a family member or a friend.
“Jim stated that he wouldn’t subject his family to that and then said ‘can I shoot someone in a hoodie?’ ” the letter said.
The comment references the slaying of 17-year-old Florida teen Trayvon Martin, who was wearing a hoodie when he was shot in the chest by community watch volunteer George Zimmerman. In July, Zimmerman was acquitted in the death, sparking demonstrations in Detroit and across the country.
Sara Wurfel, a spokesman for Gov. Rick Snyder, said Bonsall’s comment, if true, is “inappropriate and incredibly disturbing.”
“We need to be focused on providing better service to our customers as we reinvent our state and its largest city,” she said. “That includes treating everyone with the respect they deserve.”
Staff writer Darren A. Nichols contributed