JACKSON, MI – Phrases like “combating discrimination” and making Jackson more “tolerant and inclusive” are often thrown around by city officials.
One tangible way to put them into action is by removing Jackson County Sheriff Steven Rand from office, Vice Mayor and Councilwoman Arlene Robinson said Wednesday during her State of the City speech.
It’s been more than a year since a lawsuit was filed by sheriff’s Lt. Tommy Schuette alleging Rand created a hostile work environment for him, harassing him because of what he says is a work-related hearing disability.
Schuette’s attorney released audio recordings that Schuette made during staff meetings, in which the sheriff calls a female judge a “scatter-brained c---” and fantasizes about making a snuff film with a female courthouse employee. Rand has confirmed it’s his voice on the tapes and has apologized.
The only way to remove a sheriff is through governor order or recall. Recall signature gathering has temporarily stalled – and the earliest that could remove him is May 2020, just months before his term ends.
City officials were among the first to call for Rand’s resignation a year ago, as did the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce and Jackson NAACP branch. The Jackson County Board of Commissioners also called for Rand’s resignation or governor removal from office and later took away nearly $11,000 in Rand’s annual benefits.
“These words – bigotry, intolerance, discrimination – are words unfortunately that have come into our homes and into our city,” Robinson said. “To any of those who doubt that discrimination and institutional racism exist, (Rand still in office) is a simple and straightforward (case) where we can recognize it still exists.”
Robinson and Mayor Derek Dobies plan to write letters to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel to ask for Rand’s removal, since he’s refused to resign. Similar letters sent to former Gov. Rick Snyder and former Attorney General Bill Schuette from the city and county resulted in no action.
A representative in Whitmer’s office told Jackson County officials that they are investigating the issue, county board Chairman James “Steve” Shotwell Jr. said.
"We're doing everything we can," Shotwell said. "We're waiting on the governor's office to do what she wants to do."
A spokeswoman from Whitmer’s office declined comment on questions from MLive/Jackson Citizen Patriot, but said the administration is in conversations with Nessel’s office on the issue. The attorney general’s office didn’t respond to questions.
Rand did not return requests seeking comment for this story.
Other city leaders, including Jackson City Councilman Freddie Dancy, have expressed frustration that Rand is still in office. While advocating to rename Francis Street after Martin Luther King Jr., Dancy doubled down on asking the governor for a decision on the sheriff at the Feb. 12 council meeting.
“You’ve got people complaining about naming a street after the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, but we have a bigot sitting in a chair in office. That’s why the street renaming is so important,” Dancy said. “We need diversity, we need unity. Because we have people sitting in positions that don’t offer that. They offer bigotry, they offer hate. Hate in their heart.”
MLive reporter Gus Burns contributed to this story.