Carbondale mayor threatens firing of Human Relations Commission chair over community roundtable

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Carbondale mayor threatens firing of Human Relations Commission chair over community roundtable

Pulliam Hall towers over the Carbondale skyline on Tuesday, May 8, 2018, at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois.

Pulliam Hall towers over the Carbondale skyline on Tuesday, May 8, 2018, at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois.

Brian Munoz

Pulliam Hall towers over the Carbondale skyline on Tuesday, May 8, 2018, at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois.

Brian Munoz

Brian Munoz

Pulliam Hall towers over the Carbondale skyline on Tuesday, May 8, 2018, at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois.

By Rana Schenke and Austin Phelps, Staff Reporters

Jerrold Hennrich, Carbondale Human Relations Commission chair, said he received two phone calls from the city manager advising him not to go through with a Thursday roundtable because the university might be insulted.

The roundtable was meant to facilitate a conversation with community members, Southern Illinois University officials and students to discuss a proactive way to attract new students and businesses as well as retain young professionals in the community, according to the roundtable press release.

Comments and concerns voiced during the roundtable would be collected and incorporated into recommendations that will be presented to the Carbondale city council, according to Hennrich.

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“I said [to the city manager], ‘We’re kind of [an] advisory body to you. It doesn’t really work the other way around,” Hennrich said. “He called me again and asked me not to, [the] diversity officer called and asked me not to, then the mayor called me and fired me.”

Because of the way the Human Relations Commission is set up, however, commissioners can’t be “fired” in the traditional sense of the word, Hennrich said.

“He said that I was effectively fired… and to not show up at the next meeting,” Hennrich said. “[The commission has a] statute that requires him to take a vote of the city council to either remove me from office or replace me.”

Hennrich said until the mayor gets the necessary votes, he will stay in his position.

“What I’m not going to allow the mayor of this community to do is eliminate the Human Relations Commission through attrition,” Hennrich said. “I’ve got several vacancies on the commission as it is, and if he doesn’t want to reappoint people, we just lose the commission entirely.”

Hennrich said the Human Relations Commission has been a thorn in the side of city administration because it talks about sensitive issues that administration doesn’t necessarily want to address.

Hennrich said the commission invited Chancellor Carlo Montemagno and Interim President J. Kevin Dorsey to attend the roundtable and both declined.

“I already knew the answer [before I asked], to be honest,” Hennrich said. “There’s a board of trustees meeting tonight, so I didn’t expect that they would attend.”

The SIU Board of Trustees meeting took place at 9 a.m. in Edwardsville, Illinois.

The mayor and the city manager also declined to attend, Hennrich said.

The roundtable was open to both Carbondale residents and students of SIU.

No current SIU students were in attendance.

“It’s the duty of every citizen to try to figure out how to be responsive to the needs of the people,” Hennrich said at the beginning of the roundtable.

“This is a democracy; we’re going to talk about it,” Hennrich said. “This is our community.”

Some of the issues discussed at the roundtable included decline in diversity in Carbondale and at SIU, the separation between SIU and the rest of the town, and declining enrollment at SIU.

Karriem Shariati, one of the commissioners facilitating the roundtable, said he started to take serious note of the enrollment issues while driving around campus last spring.

“What I noticed [while driving] was, I could literally drive on the sidewalk from the Communications building circle drive past Thompson Point and not hit a student,” Shariati said. “That’s when it became real to me.”

SIU’s enrollment has hit a new low of 12,817 students for Fall 2018.

(See more: Montemagno: ‘18,300 by 2025,’ SIUC sees nearly 12 percent enrollment drop during fall 2018 semester)

According to another commissioner, Ted Gutierrez, the group he facilitated at the event discussed diversity in university employees as something that could be improved.

“[We need to figure] out a way to attract the diversity that we have in our student body [in our staff],” Gutierrez said. “If we have a student here that can’t relate to administration, faculty or staff, then how are we going to be able to recruit them and retain them?”

John Lenzini, Building and Neighborhood Services Supervisor and roundtable attendee, brought up another concern with administration.

“One consistent theme that we’re [seeing] is the constant, constant, constant change in leadership at SIU,” Lenzini said. “That’s a problem, I think the university is suffering a lot from the lack of leadership.”

Shariati brought up former SIU presidents Delyte Morris and Roscoe Pulliam as examples of strong university leaders.

“You need to have a good handle on academics and on finances and all that, but we really need a visionary,” Shariati said. “At this point, we’re right back to where we were with Roscoe and Dr. [Morris].”

Staff reporter Rana Schenke can be reached at rschenke@dailyegyptian.com.

Staff reporter Austin Phelps can be reached at aphelps@dailyegyptian.com or on Twitter at @austinphelps96.

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