The Ann Arbor City Council approved a resolution Tuesday evening to schedule a City Council hearing for the reprimand of Councilmember Jeff Hayner, D-Ward 1, following calls from the community for his removal.
The resolution follows months of petitioning from Ann Arbor residents who called on Hayner to resign after he quoted a homophobic slur on Facebook and used racial slurs in an interview with a Black MLive journalist. During the meeting, Hayner said that since his conversation took place outside of the council, it should not be subject to disciplinary action from the city.
The council officially requested Hayner’s resignation at their last meeting on June 7th, but this meeting’s DC-1 resolution aims to ensure a City Council hearing would be held. The council plans to schedule the hearing during a special meeting of the City Council on Aug. 4th, tentative to Hayner’s availability.
During the council’s discussion of the resolution, Hayner attempted to defend himself, reiterating his belief that the resolution contradicts his freedom of speech.
“You can make up what you think I’m saying,” Hayner said. “The implication was that if you vote to move this hearing forward, you are saying that you believe that the contents of a private conversation between two consenting adults outside of this body is your concern.”
In response to Hayner’s defense, Councilmember Jen Eyer, D-Ward 4, said Hayner should not have made the comments since he has a responsibility as a public councilmember to represent the Ann Arbor community in the press.
“This was not a private conversation between two consenting adults,” Eyer said. “This was a conversation with a reporter. No conversation with a reporter is ever private. Ever. Even if you think you’re off the record, that’s not a private conversation.”
Councilmember Linh Song, D-Ward 2, said she supports the hearing, citing how Hayner’s speech has negatively affected the wellbeing of Ann Arbor residents.
“I’ve been having so many conversations with Black residents, like constant conversations about concerns and worries, anger, hurt from Black residents,” Song said. “I would like to see this hearing advance, I would like to see members of this community be able to share those sentiments, and I would love to see that this body shows support for folks who have expressed that they expect more.”
Ann Arbor resident Michelle Hughes offered her perspective as a transgender community member active in Ann Arbor politics during the public comment portion of the meeting. Hughes said Hayner’s use of hate speech has left her and other members of the LGBTQ+ community concerned for their safety in the city.
“As soon as we saw (Hayner) using homophobic language and not backing down from it, we knew that we were going to be put in danger because LGBT people — and particularly trans people — are already very precarious,” Hughes said.
Councilmember Travis Radina, D-Ward 3, said he believed the sentiments of the community, as well as those of the councilmembers, are not relevant to deciding whether or not the DC-1 resolution passes.
“The decision whether or not to move forward with this hearing shouldn’t be what we as councilmembers feel about what Councilmember Hayner did or didn’t do,” Radina said. “It should be about the facts about what he did or didn’t do, and getting to the bottom of those. I too care about how those words impacted our community, but rather than allowing our individual feelings drive this decision, we need to make a decision as a body as to how we handle violations of our code of conduct.”
Mayor Christopher Taylor said he felt the resolution’s and the proposed Council hearing’s purpose was to reconnect the government with community members who were distanced by Hayner’s statements. He said the council has an obligation as elected officials to respond to hate speech.
“We should not accept it, and I do not accept it,” Taylor said. “The harm created here is that the voicing of that word severs community members from their government. This is a harm that will not abate on its own. This is a harm that we must work to resolve.”
Hayner asked for recusal from the vote. The resolution ultimately passed with only Councilmember Kathy Griswold, D-Ward 2, opposing.
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