Several organizations cut ties with Southwest Michigan First after they hired Former Michigan Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield as their CEO.
The Kalamazoo City Commission first cut ties with the group Feb. 15 after six years of membership. The city paid $10,000 for a yearly membership.
City Commissioner Erin Knott led the charge to leave the organization at their recent commission meeting. Knott said Chatfield’s past attempts to stand in the way of diversity, equity and inclusion was the reason for the decision.
“Mr. Chatfield had six years when he served in the state legislature to push forward legislation to amend the states civil rights law, to include explicit protections to prohibit discrimination against sexual orientation, gender identity, expression,” Knott said. “Not only did he choose not to use his leadership position to do so, he flat out stood in the way of it.”
Knott said Chatfield was unwilling to move any legislation which would move protections that expand the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act of 1976 prohibiting discrimination based on race, religion, age, national origin sex, weight, marital status and familial status.
Knott, who was also the Executive Director of Equality Michigan, said she hoped this decision will send a message to the community that these actions are not tolerated, and everyone is welcomed in Kalamazoo.
“It’s about people’s lives,” Knott said. “We know economically it makes good business sense for employers, businesses and institutions to value diversity, equity and inclusion. Because it not only attracts in Western's case, students, but in the business case it helps retain and attracts employees.”
Knott has said the reaction from the community was overwhelmingly positive. She said even with the withdrawal, it is unlikely the organization will take a huge financial hit due to its large operating budget.
Since the city commission cut ties, Kalamazoo Valley Community College, The Kalamazoo Promise, Factory Coffee and the Kalamazoo Community Foundation have separated from Southwest Michigan First.