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Harper Woods interim city manager asks mayor to resign over alleged 'white supremacists' remark

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News
Jae Bass, 24, center, of Detroit, leads the March on July 30, 2020 in Harper Woods.

The interim Harper Woods city manager Thursday called for the city's mayor to step down "immediately" amid  a growing controversy over the mayor's alleged comment in support of white supremacists.

“Recent comments by Mayor Poynter ... do not reflect the values or beliefs of the administration or residents of the City of Harper Woods," Interim City Manager John Szymanski said in a statement posted on the city's website. "As such, I have personally asked Mayor Poynter to immediately resign from office in order that we can move forward and work on maintaining and improving the quality of life for those who live and visit the City of Harper Woods."  

Kenneth Poynter has been mayor of Harper Woods since 1997.

Poynter has not responded this week to messages seeking comment, including a message left this afternoon.

The mayor, angry about a June protest outside his home, reportedly told community leaders and city department heads during a meeting last week that "I understand why white people would become white supremacists,” sparking outrage from civil rights activists.

Will Smith, a longtime Harper Woods resident and former city councilman who is Black, said Monday he was "extremely shocked and disappointed" when he heard the words come from the mayor's mouth and added that Poynter should step down.

"I think it is time for the mayor to resign and to issue an apology to each and every member who were at that meeting," Smith said.

A second activist who attended the July 21 meeting, Jaye Hill, said the mayor was out of bounds with his remarks about white supremacists. Hill, who is Black, said the mayor has since apologized to him but "for him to say what he had to say was wrong."

The mayor mishandled the apology, Hill said. "You said (the remark) to my face but you called me on the phone (to apologize)," he said. "It's not genuine."

The city has been embroiled in controversy since the June 10 death of Priscilla Slater, 37, while in police custody. Poynter had not responded to messages seeking comment. 

Harper Woods also is dealing with a controversy involving members of its fire department. In a June 30 press release, city officials said they "became aware of a photo taken by Harper Woods Fire Fighters, on City property, and posted to a Facebook page that is not affiliated with the City. "

The photo included a firefighter "whose hand was positioned in what appeared to be a symbol that is associated with white supremacists," according to city officials.

"The City acted immediately after learning of the content of the photo and the firefighter was suspended pending an investigation by an independent source," the statement read. "