Following a firestorm of controversy ever since his selection to head up Southwest Michigan First, former Speaker of the Michigan House Lee Chatfield announced his resignation from the role of Chief Executive Officer to Southwest Michigan First in a post on Twitter this morning.
Chatfield’s Tweet said, “For the betterment of the Kalamazoo community, the businesses that the board of directors represent, the staff at SWMF and for the sake of my conscience, please see the letter of resignation I offered this morning. I remain grateful for having had this incredible opportunity.”
This was his letter of resignation:
The arrival of my family and me to the Kalamazoo community has caused some unfortunate controversy, and for that I am truly sorry. It was never my intent to cause a distraction, and I apologize for any hard feelings or stress caused. There’s so much division in our country today, and it pains me to see my political past separate a welcoming community.
I especially apologize to the incredible staff at Southwest Michigan First. I have learned to deal with criticism for political reasons, but they haven’t, nor should they have to. They didn’t deserve this negative attention. They didn’t deserve the negative backlash. Even during just one short week, I witnessed a very talented, hard-working and driven team that truly only wants to serve their community and better people’s lives.
I was elected three times to serve as State Representative and represent my beliefs and the values of the constituents in my district to the best of my ability. At the State Capitol, I worked with members across the aisle and within my own party who may have shared different views from me and my constituents, but I never shied away from understanding those different views nor from building meaningful relationships with those who I disagreed with. I believed that our state and country deserved leaders who were willing to have that honest dialogue, and I still do.
Specifically, regarding amending the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, I cam into the Legislature with publicly-known beliefs. Since then, I have had many thoughtful and enlightening conversations and have built close relationships that, quite frankly, I did not have before I was elected in 2014. I sought out these opportunities to learn from LGBTQ+ advocates and allies to become more informed. I’ve learned so much in the past seven years, and the meaningful relationships formed in the Legislature with members of different perspectives have guided and helped shape some of my personal views towards diversity and inclusion today.
As Speaker of the House, I was engaged in conversations with stakeholders and advocates about language that would enact workplace and housing protections for the LGBTQ+ community. My goal was always to ensure that each individual’s personal, religious and civil liberties were protected. I admit, and I own, that I sought to ensure a way that people of faith, religious institutions and their non-profits would not be sued for upholding their beliefs. But unfortunately, during my tenure, I was unable to find a compromise that all parties could agree on. Yet, I believe that civil rights belong to ever single person, because we’re all created equally before God. And I believe that the fundamental purpose of government is to secure those rights. I have always been taught to treat each person with dignity and respect, and I have never, nor would I ever, personally treat anyone differently or discriminate based upon someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. That’s just not who I am.
Personally, when working with people on various issues, it didn’t matter to me what religion they were. It didn’t matter to me what their sexual orientation was, or what their gender identity was, their political affiliation, or their personal beliefs. What only mattered to me was treating one another with respect and reaching a consensus. And that is something that I always sought to do. Because without that, nothing would ever get done.
Following his Tweeted resignation, the Board of Directors of Southwest Michigan First issued the following statement:
This morning our newly appointed CEO, Lee Chatfield, submitted his resignation to the Southwest Michigan First Board of Directors. At our 10:00 am meeting today, the board accepted Lee’s resignation. We wish the very best for Lee and his family.
In recent days, the announcement of our selection to fill the vacant CEO position has caused a great deal of disappointment by our team members, community partners, investors, donors and board members of Southwest Michigan First. Many have questioned our agency’s commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion as well as our human capital and CEO search processes.
We welcome the conversations, challenging questions and opportunities to listen, learn and grow. What is abundantly clear is that our search process fell well below the standard expected by our board, our community partners, investors, donors and importantly, our Southwest Michigan First team.
As we renew and begin again our search process for our next CEO, we are committed to and will assure a process that is open, transparent and inclusive of those who depend upon us to improve economic development and employment opportunities for all we serve. We recognize that increased prosperity has not often been experienced by our communities of color, Latinx communities and our LGBTQ+ community. We remain committed to increasing access to capital, entrepreneurial opportunities, leadership development programs and representation at board tables.
In 2017, the Southwest Michigan First Board of Directors voted to support the amendment to expand the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. We supported that legislation then and we support it today. Words, policies, and actions matter. We believe that communities, individuals and organizations get better when we engage in tough important conversations about discrimination and racism. Southwest Michigan First is committed to the conversations and actions necessary so that all in our community prosper and are free from the debilitating impact of discrimination of any kind.
The first step in our agency’s journey is to establish and appropriately resource an executive level position for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Southwest Michigan First. Additionally, we will create a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Board Committee to make certain that all of our human capital policies, procedures and practices mirror the expectations made clear by our community partners, investors, donors, board members and team members. With humility, we apologize to all who we have disappointed.