Amid controversy, leader steps down from Mayor’s Racial Equity Initiative

Less than two weeks after her appointed to lead the Mayor’s Racial Equity Initiative, Kimberly L. Henderson has resigned, citing a controversy that dates to her previous job in Ohio.

Henderson, a lawyer, was targeted for investigation after she stepped down as head of Ohio’s Department of Job and Family Services. A state audit on the department found that the agency paid nearly $3.8 billion in overpayments and fraudulent cases during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to published reports.

According to The Charlotte Observer, in May 2021, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost asked the Ohio Highway Patrol and Columbus Police to open a criminal investigation into how the department handled the overpayments and fraudulent claims.

No criminal investigation was announced.

In a latter dated Feb. 13 and written to Mike Lamach and Malcomb Coley, who co-chair the Mayor’s Racial Equity Initiative, Henderson said she decided to step down from the initiative because she did not want the Ohio controversy to distract attention away from the work assigned to the $250 million program.

The initiative was announced in November to address the effects of historic racism in Charlotte. With funding from corporations and city coffers, the initiative has billed itself as a “public-private partnership for an equitable Charlotte.”

“I believe that the work of the Initiative is too critical to be jeopardized in any way by public misperceptions related to my prior leadership as a Cabinet Director in Ohio and appointment as Executive Director,” Henderson said in the letter, which was posted on a Twitter account operated by the Mayor’s Racial Equity Initiative.

On Feb. 3. the Mayor’s Racial Equity Initiative announced that Henderson had been hired to direct the Employer Office of Inclusion and Advancement, which provides direct support for the Mayor’s Racial Equity Initiative. The Employer Office of Inclusion and Advancement, in turn, is operated out of the office of the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance.

In an “open letter,” also posted to Twitter, Janet LaBar, president and CEO of the business alliance, took responsibility “for the recent staffing decision.”

“…we all regret the negative attention this process has brought to the Mayor’s Racial Equity Initiative and to Mayor Lyles,” the letter stated. “We are deeply sorry for the distraction this has caused to the work that is critically important to our community.”

The letter further stated: “We are committed to more conversation, better process, and involvement with the Mayor and the broader community moving forward.”

In her resignation letter, Henderson said she was not “the subject of any criminal investigation” stemming from her work Ohio, where she served as a member of Gov. Mike DeWine’s cabinet.

“In response to the pandemic, my top priority as Cabinet Director was assisting nearly two million Ohioans in need as quickly as possible,” she said. “Regrettably, foreign and domestic criminal used the pandemic as an opportunity to defraud unemployment benefits system across the nation at an unprecedented scale.”

Henderson said in the letter that she was “proud of what my team accomplished for the citizens on Ohio in the midst of historic challenges.”

QCity Metro Editor Glenn H. Burkins contributed to this report.

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