LANSING, Mich. — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Wednesday that the state's civil rights director should resign or be fired after he made inappropriate, offensive comments about women.
Whitmer, who does not have the power to dismiss Agustin Arbulu herself, said she will no longer let him attend Cabinet meetings and will direct her administration to not directly engage him except to the extent required by law. The Civil Rights Commission on July 29 reprimanded Arbulu for the May 29 incident outside a suburban Detroit middle school but kept him on the job.
"The single-most important consideration in my decision is the director's ability to lead the Michigan Department of Civil Rights moving forward," Whitmer wrote in a letter to the eight-member panel. She said Arbulu, by his actions and his response to an investigation of his statements, "has compromised that mission and lacks the credibility his position demands."
The Associated Press left a message seeking comment from Arbulu.
A male communications analyst for the agency reported that Arbulu told him "would you look at that woman" and to "check out" her butt, and continued to make comments about her appearance during a break from the panel's listening session on the planned reconfiguration of the Grosse Pointe Public Schools System. The staffer, who is gay, said he told Arbulu the statements were not OK and Arbulu responded that "he would not understand because he did not like women."
In a July 16 memo, an investigator reviewing the incident said Arbulu told her if he did make inappropriate comments, he was referring to his adult daughter. He also told her that he saw his daughter at a subsequent listening session and "she looked hot."
Alma Wheeler Smith, the Civil Rights Commission's chairwoman, defended the decision to keep Arbulu in his position.
In a letter to the Democratic governor on Monday, she said the sexual harassment complaint "was not actionable" and deemed it an isolated incident, noting that the employee who complained felt the issue was resolved. Arbulu was apologetic and thoughtful in a follow-up phone call, according to the staffer.
The commissioners, said Wheeler Smith, chose a "restorative justice discipline model" to redress the victims and reintegrate Arbulu into the department.
Many Democratic lawmakers have urged Arbulu to resign.
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