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Royal Oak mayor calls on commissioner who attended Lansing protest to resign

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

The mayor of Royal Oak is calling for a city commissioner's resignation after he said she ignored social distancing guidelines for COVID-19, putting herself and others at risk, during a protest of the statewide stay-at-home order on Wednesday outside the state Capitol.

Royal Oak Mayor Michael Fournier told The Detroit News on Saturday he isn't opposed to City Commissioner Kim Gibbs exercising her rights to free speech, but she did so with a "complete lack of judgment."

Royal Oak Mayor Michael Fournier.

"I have significant concerns about her ability to represent our city," he said. "Moving forward, it shows a complete lack of judgment and empathy for all of those who have succumbed to this disease, their families and especially those on the front line working their tails off to keep us safe and healthy."

On Wednesday, Gibbs was among thousands on Wednesday who gathered in Lansing to protest Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's tightened stay-at-home restrictions to battle against the spread of COVID-19.

The demonstration, coined Operation Gridlock, focused on restoring freedoms and curbing the economic damage of the statewide shutdown and spanned nearly eight hours.

Fournier said he sent Gibbs an email the following day, asking her to strongly consider resigning. 

"I don't know that she holds any confidence in the people she represents anymore, which is a challenge," he contends. 

Gibbs on Saturday rejected the mayor's claims, arguing she did not put herself or anyone else at risk while attending the event, and she will not be stepping down.

The commissioner said many attendees of the rally remained in their vehicles. Gibbs claims that while on foot that day she came into contact with only about three people, all of which remained more than six feet away. 

"Nobody was crossing any barriers. Nobody was violating anybody else's personal space," she said. "My ability to serve the community and those who voted for me has nothing to do with me being there." 

In a Wednesday Facebook post, Gibbs explained that she attended the gathering "to support the unheard voices of small business owners and those who work for them."

Royal Oak commissioner Kim Gibbs

"Many of them are facing permanently losing their business or their jobs due to Governor Whitmer’s near total shutdown of the State," she wrote. "The rules of her lockdown have become arbitrary and capricious."

Gibbs further wrote she believes there's a way to slowly reopen parts of the state's economy safely "without resorting to punitive executive orders" that she contends, "takes a sledgehammer to the entire economy of the state of Michigan."

Fournier said Gibbs responded to his email request with a stance similar to what she'd posted on social media. 

The mayor said that city commission is not empowered to remove Gibbs but it can vote to reprimand or censure her. The commission is scheduled to meet next on April 27.

Royal Oak, home to a Beaumont Hospital, has lost 18 residents to the respiratory virus so far and among the patients recovering from the illness is Royal Oak's Police Chief Corrigan O'Donohue, Fournier noted. 

"I feel it's my moral responsibility to hold people accountable, especially when I took an oath to protect my city," he said. "She missed the mark here. It's sad."

Gibbs said the hospital is in her back yard and many of her neighbors work there. 

"In no way, shape or form would I be doing something to disrespect those that I admire," she said. "They are saving people's lives." 

cferretti@detroitnews.com