Agustin Arbulu

The Michigan Civil Rights Commission has relieved Executive Director Agustin Arbulu of his duties after comments surfaced.

The Michigan Civil Rights Commission terminated the employment of Department of Civil Rights Executive Director Agustin Arbulu following a lengthy meeting on Aug. 27 in Detroit. The eight-member commission, whose independence is enshrined in the state Constitution, is solely responsible for the hiring or termination of the department’s leader.

Following a closed session on Aug. 1, the commission voted unanimously to reprimand Arbulu for comments he made to a member of his staff that were interpreted as objectifying a woman. In addition to the reprimand, the commission also decided he would need to complete a training and mentorship program before the end of year. Until that time, he would not be allowed to conduct civil rights training sessions. Arbulu apologized for his comments, calling them “unacceptable and regrettable.”

Following the reprimand, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer publicly admonished the commission for its decision, calling for his termination and demanding the commission furnish her with a summary of its reasoning for the reprimand. Others joined the governor, including 24 Democratic members of the legislature, in calling for his removal, questioning how the state’s top civil rights professional could remain effective after accepting responsibility for the comments he made.

On Aug. 20, Arbulu initiated a leave of absence from his position. It was during his leave that the commission decided on Aug. 27, by a 5-2 vote, to terminate his employment. Commission chair Alma Wheeler Smith told the Detroit News that “this is a very difficult decision for everyone on the commission. The director was a very good director when he was present. He had a good work ethic … I think the commission’s earlier decision to retain him with coaching and corrective action was a bad decision.”

During the public hearing portion of the meeting, media outlets reported that the commission received favorable comments about Arbulu from about a dozen people, largely from the state’s Hispanic community. Arbulu, who was born in Peru, is also Jewish.

“Reinstate him as soon as possible and let’s get back to work,” the Detroit News reported Wayne State University Associate Professor Joe Coello as saying. “If he is removed, the chances are that someone who is not committed to the nonpartisan commission may assume the directorship of this agency and then you’d be setting yourself back.”

Arbulu, who resides in Birmingham, had been appointed to the Civil Rights Commission in 2013 by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder. In accordance with the state Constitution, no more than four members of the commission can be from any one political party. Arbulu was appointed as a Republican. Following the resignation of Executive Director Matthew Wesaw in 2015, the commission initiated a national search for a replacement. Arbulu was a candidate for the position and selected by a 5-2 vote.

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