Detroit CFO apologizes for controversial remarks, is suspended pending probe

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 10, 2013 9:26 PM

DETROIT (Reuters) - Jim Bonsall, Detroit's chief financial officer, apologized Thursday after the city launched an investigation into allegations that he made racially inappropriate comments and demeaned his co-workers.

Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, who hired Bonsall in July, has suspended him with pay for the duration of the investigation, his spokesman Bill Nowling said.

City Treasurer Cheryl Johnson sent a letter on Tuesday to Orr, Mayor Dave Bing and other officials saying Bonsall "has demonstrated a pattern of behavior that has created a hostile work environment" and that his actions were "more pronounced with minority women," according to reports in the local newspapers.

Johnson said Bonsall asked during a meeting if he could "shoot someone in a hoodie" during Angels' Night, when volunteers patrol Detroit neighborhoods to prevent arson in the days before Halloween, the Free Press reported. Bonsall's comments seem to be a reference to Florida teenager Trayvon Martin who was shot and killed last year.

"I apologize and am sorry for having offended coworkers over comments I made during a recent meeting," Bonsall said in a statement. "Regardless of the outcome of the internal investigation or whether I keep my job as a result of it, it was never my intention to offend anyone."

Johnson, who is black, was previously the city's finance director, but Bonsall named her city treasurer on October 3. In the letter, Johnson said the appointment was a demotion.

"Jim has brought in a friend of his, who happens to be a white male, to do one of the roles I was responsible for and pay him more than I was being compensated," Johnson wrote, according to the Free Press. "He stated in a meeting with me that no one in their right mind would do this for less than $150 an hour. I guess he didn't realize that all city employees work for much less than that."

Detroit's population, which has fallen to 700,000 from a peak of 1.8 million in 1950, is about 83 percent black. The city filed the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history in July.

Johnson compared her treatment to the "family and friends plan that existed under the Kilpatrick administration," referencing former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick who was sentenced on Thursday to 28 years in federal prison for corruption.

(Reporting by Joseph Lichterman; Editing by Eric Walsh)