MICHIGAN CITY — A racially charged comment, apparently inadvertently recorded at the end of a phone message left by Mayor Duane Parry for a black local pastor, was blasted over a loudspeaker Tuesday outside City Hall amid calls for the mayor to resign.
“On the recording, the mayor thinks he has hung up the phone and falls into his comfort zone,” said Pastor James Lane of Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist Church.
On the voicemail recording, Parry says, “They want a (expletive) audience, ya know. These black guys, they all want a (expletive) audience all the time.”
That voicemail message was a tipping point for pastors and others who had been asking for an apology over Parry’s treatment of Police Chief Dion Campbell, who is black.
“We are asking for Mayor Parry to resign,” Lane told the crowd at a protest Tuesday.
“Mayor Parry, resign,” the crowd chanted. “It’s time to do the right thing, mayor.”
“It’s such a bad stain, not on the party, but on the people,” Councilwoman Connie Gramarossa, R-at large, said.
Edward French Sr., vice president of the Michigan City chapter of the NAACP, issued a list of demands that included more funding for initiatives that support the black community; installation of solar-powered street lights in crime-ridden neighborhoods; enforcement of the hiring ordinance to support employment of black people; a public apology to the community as well as to Lane and Campbell; and diversity and inclusion in the mayor’s office.
Taleathia Hairston, an avid campaign volunteer for Parry, said she now regrets her efforts on his behalf. “He has disappointed me in so many ways,” she said.
Newly elected LaPorte County Republican Party Chairman Al Stevens said he was “thoroughly disgusted” with Parry’s words. “I ran on a platform of inclusion and diversity and expanding the tent.”
Gramarossa added to the bipartisan calls for Parry’s resignation. “I stand with everyone who believes this is disgusting,” she said.
Former Mayor Sheila Brillson Matias is now a county commissioner. She’s a Democrat, but she doesn’t see this as a political party issue.
“This is a time for people to unite and put politics aside,” she said. “You’ve got to stand up for what’s right, and this isn’t right in any way, shape or manner.”
Lane said Parry’s comments were left on his phone by Parry, who was responding to his request for a meeting to discuss the mayor's recent handling of funding requests by the city's police chief.
"He thought that he hung up the phone," Lane said. "It was a hot mic situation."
Lane questions why the mayor went on to raise the issue of race, which had nothing to do with the issue at hand.
"But he made it about race," Lane said.
The mayor's office said late Tuesday morning that Parry was not immediately available for comment, and a call to the phone number left on the voicemail attributed to him was not immediately returned.
City Council reacts
City Councilman Paul Przybylinski, D-2nd, described the message as a "very sad situation, very sad."
Przybylinski said he found it hard to believe someone in this day and age still would have that type of mindset around the issue of race.
"I believe it puts us back many, many years in our relationship as a community," Przybylinski said.
He said the City Council will meet soon to discuss the situation.
"Things will be unfolding at our next council meeting," Przybylinski said.
City Councilwoman Dalia Zygas, D-at large, said of the message, "It's totally outrageous and unacceptable."
"I'm not sure how this can be fixed," she said.
She suggested the potential for more training in diversity, equity and inclusion among city officials and voiced concern that this type of program was not already in place.
Former Democratic Michigan City Mayor Ron Meer, who was defeated by Parry in 2019, said, "I'm appalled by the comments."
Meer, whose wife is black, said the racial reference in the message does not come as a surprise to him after his history of working with Parry, who was a City Council member during Meer's tenure as mayor.
"It's hurtful," he said.
Parry’s phone call to Lane stemmed from concern over Parry’s public scolding of Police Chief Campbell.
Campbell had written a fundraising letter included in city water bills seeking donations for a number of initiatives, including shop with a cop, the citizens police academy and others.
Parry said in a news release afterward that Campbell should have run the letter past him first. There’s existing money for some of the items mentioned in Campbell’s letter, Parry said.
At last week’s City Council meeting, Councilman Bryant Dabney, D-1st, introduced discussion of Parry’s news release.
“I had to read it twice, because it just feels like a scolding of our police chief for sending out a fundraising letter,” Dabney said. “The fundraising has been going on forever, so now I’m feeling like, 'why now?'”
Councilwoman Angie Deuitch, D-at large, said the criticism should have been leveled in person. “It doesn’t feel right on so many levels that it was done this way,” she said.
At the council meeting last week, Parry defended his scolding of Campbell. As mayor, Parry said, he is the chief’s immediate supervisor. When Parry named Campbell chief, the mayor said, Campbell asked if every press release had to be passed off to the mayor, “and I don’t want to be a bottleneck,” Parry said, because the department issues so many releases regarding crimes.
“With this, I was not consulted,” Parry said. “I was not informed that the chief would send this out with the water bills.”
All new fitness equipment was purchased when the new police station was built, and money is always appropriated when a police dog is needed, Parry said.
City Controller Yvonne Hoffmaster told him the police department has “more than sufficient money in these funds for all of these expenses, so I’m wondering why are we doing this if all the money is there that we need in these expenses.”
“I’m very happy with our chief’s performance,” Parry said. “My business is business, and my business is money.”
“Praise in public, reprimand in private,” Councilman Gene Simmons, D-6th, said.
“I wouldn’t dare do that to any of my employees who work for me,” Deuitch said.
Przybylinski said Simmons’ comments “really made a point with me.” He reminded his colleagues about how the mayor attacked him and Councilwoman Tracie Tillman, D-5th, at a council meeting. “We never got apologized to.”
Councilman Don Przybylinski, D-at large, joined his brother in rebuking Parry for his handling of this issue.
“I think what took place is unprofessional,” Przybylinski said. To not call the chief first, “that’s not proper.”
Council President Michael Mack, D-3rd, said, “In this day and age, it’s a bit tone-deaf” to deal with employees in that way, especially with diversity involved.
“I think the calls are honest, accurate. They’re in line with the feelings of the ministerial alliance and the Republican Party,” Mack said.
Any black person would have to be distrustful, he said.
“It’s systemic and the hidden argument that Black Lives Matter is all about. It’s going to be a difficult road to conciliation,” Mack said.
In this Series
- 30 updates