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Royal Oak city commissioner Kim Gibbs dies at 48

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Royal Oak — A city councilwoman who has been in the news over the past few months for attending an anti-lockdown rally and being arrested for shoplifting, died Thursday, two weeks after she was found unconscious in her Royal Oak home.

Royal Oak commissioner Kim Gibbs

Kim Gibbs, 48, who had been on the city commission since 2017 and was running for an Oakland County commission seat this fall, had been comatose since Aug. 5, when her mother went to her Royal Oak address after she had not returned text messages for over a day.

Gibbs, who was single and lived alone, was taken to Beaumont Hospital, where she was put in hospice care two days ago. She died Thursday after life-support machines had been disconnected, said her friend and fellow councilman Randy LeVasseur. The cause of death is unknown.

“Kim never regained consciousness,” said LeVasseur. “I know she had been in an auto accident a few days before her mother found her and not sure if they might have had something to do with it.”

LeVasseur said Gibbs, who was diabetic, was dropping out of the county commissioner race due to health reasons.

“She had some medical problems but they certainly were aggravated by other things over the past four months,” he said. “She was under a great deal of stress.”

Gibbs made news April 15 after she was spotted, without a mask, attending a "Operation Gridlock" anti-lockdown rally in Lansing, leading her fellow commissioners to censure her.

She explained later she had attended the rally to "support the unheard voices of those who work for small business and may permanently lose their jobs" due to the state shutdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. She complained afterward that she had received threatening emails and phone calls telling her to stay home.

In May, she was ticketed for shoplifting after attempting to leave a Royal Oak Meijer with unpaid groceries. She later pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor offense and was sentenced to 12 months probation and community service.

In a public apology, Gibbs, an attorney, explained she was unemployed and made a bad decision over whether to spend money on insulin or food and chose insulin "because it keeps me alive." She rejected a suggestion by colleagues she resign from the city commission.

According to her friends, Gibbs was so traumatized by a series of personal attacks from acquaintances and strangers that she filed a police report and voice recording which had advised her to not leave her home. Following the April rally Gibbs self-quarantined and tested negative for the COVID-19 virus, friends said.

"I'm really disappointed, appalled, at how she was treated — by residents and by the city commission," said Pamela Lindell, one of Gibbs' Royal Oak friends. "It was like a witch hunt. If they would have asked citizens to march to city hall with pitchforks, I wouldn't have been surprised."

LIndell, who is running for Oakland County commission this November in Gibbs' place, said emails, including from some commissioners, were sent out before the censure vote encouraging citizens to call or email in on the pending action.

"They tormented her on social media, sent letters to her house, it was nonstop," said Lindell. "She wasn't mean, vindictive or a nasty person. I really believe they killed. You can't expect someone not to be affected by such treatment. She didn't deserve it."

Charles Semchena, a former Royal Oak city attorney and Gibbs' friend, described her as a quiet, gentle person who had been victimized by a politics and a "mob" of critics.

"She was a goldfish in a pond of sharks," Semchena said. "She was an advocate for neighborhoods and the Farmer's Market and often found herself opposed to actions a majority of other commissioners wanted to pursue. 

Semchena said Gibbs called him on Aug. 3, two days before she was found, and asked him to help her locate a rental car after her own vehicle had been seriously damaged the weekend before by a hit-and-run driver on Telegraph Road.

"As we were riding to the rental she appeared physically fine but complained she was continuing to have panic attacks and was unable to sleep," he said. "She discussed disturbing emails and calls she received and was very upset about being censured by her fellow commissioners. She was humiliated by that.

"She said she planned to talk with a doctor and I assumed she meant that day in a teleconference," Semchena said.

"At one point she said, 'I think they're trying to kill me and they just might succeed.'"

City Commissioner Kyle DuBuc described Gibbs' death as "terrible... tragic."

"Our prayers go out for her and her loved ones," DuBuc said.

LeVasseur, who went to court this week to get Gibbs’s mother appointed her guardian and conservator, said funeral arrangements were incomplete.

mmartindale@detroitnews.com

(248) 338-0319