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Governor bars embattled civil rights chief from cabinet meetings

Governor Gretchen Whitmer has barred embattled Michigan Civil Rights Department Director Agustin Arbulu. Whitmer says it’s time for Arbulu to be fired for “unacceptable conduct.”

But Whitmer does not have that authority under the Michigan Constitution. The constitution says that decision can only be made by the Michigan Civil Rights Commission.

The commission decided, in a closed session, that Arbulu would be disciplined but not fired.

Whitmer is asking the commission to reconsider. In a letter to the commission, Whitmer says the department’s own investigation shows Arbulu should quit or be removed:

“I am now of the opinion that Director Arbulu should resign, and if he refuses, the Commissin should immediately dismiss him…”

“…The single-most important consideration in my decision is the director’s ability to lead the Michigan Civil Rights Department moving forwards. The department has a critical mission: to prevent discrimination and to investigate and resolve discrimination complaints. This charge is as important today as ever. By his actions, and his response to the ensuing investigation, I believe the director has compromised that mission and lacks the credibility his position demands.”

In the meantime, Whitmer says, Arbulu is barred from meetings of her cabinet made up of other state department directors.

Civil Rights Commission Chair Alma Wheeler Smith issued this statement:

“Commissioners are reviewing the Governor’s letter and will consider how to best respond to her concerns.”

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.