Leelanau County Road Commissioner unapologetic about using the N-word, does so repeatedly

Aug 6, 2020

 

A Leelanau County road worker drove a plow vehicle during the 2014 4th of July parade in Leland.
Credit Leelanau County Road Commission Facebook

Update 8/11/20: Tom Eckerle has resigned from the Leelanau County Road Commission. More information is available here.

 

Update 8/7/20: The Leelanau County Road Commission has asked Commissioner Tom Eckerle to resign following racist comments he made on Tuesday.

 

In an email, road commissioner John Popa confirmed the commissioners sent the letter to Erckerle this morning.

 

The letter to Eckerle was posted on the commission’s Facebook page.

  

 

 

 

As road commissioners are elected officials in Leelanau County, the commission can’t remove Eckerle, Popa says. It is up to voters to recall Eckerle if they choose to.

Leelanau County Administrator Chet Janik says a recall effort has begun, but the earliest an election could be held is in May next year.

Popa says residents upset with Eckerle’s comments should voice their concerns.

“We will try to keep him in order at meetings,” he said in an email. “People need to speak out at [our] meetings.”

 

A public official in Leelanau County acknowledges that he used the N-word before a public meeting this week.

Road Commissioner Tom Eckerle is facing backlash after saying the racial epithet in what he thought was a private conversation before the regular road commission meeting began on Tuesday.

 

The commissioners met in person at the county government building, while the public listened to the meeting remotely over the phone.

In a call with IPR News, Eckerle said his comments were not meant to be heard by those outside the room.

But, he did not back down from his words. He said he reacted out of frustration with the racial unrest and violence in American cities, which he said was caused by the Black Lives Matter movement.

Asked if he regretted saying the N-word, he doubled down.

“No, I don’t regret calling it an n----r,” Eckerle said. “A n----r is a n----r is a n----r. That’s not a person whatsoever.”

He went on to say it was the same as saying he was German, or “Polack.”

“No, it is not racism,” Eckerle said.

He said he will not resign from the road commission.

A Call to Action

Some northern Michigan residents say they were hurt and upset by Eckerle’s statements, which were first reported in the Leelanau Enterprise.

The group, Northern Michigan E3, formerly referred to as the Northern Michigan Anti-Racism Task Force, has encouraged people to call the county and ask for Eckerle’s removal from the commission.

Marshall Collins, a Black man who is a member of the group, says the government officials need to do more than condemn.

“If nothing is done, he has made it okay, he says. “So what do I tell my kid who goes to school and someone decides to call him the N-word again.”

The group says they also want anti-racism training for all northern Michigan elected officials.

IPR News will update this story as more information becomes available.