Detroit Finance Director Cheryl Johnson under fire for racial comments during pension board meeting

DETROIT (WXYZ) - The city of Detoit's finance director is under fire for the comments she made about having more black police officers and firefighters involved in the fight over pensions.

It happened last Thursday at city hall at the Police and Fire Pension Board meeting when some black police officers and fire fighters showed up and said simply ‘How can we help to fight cuts.'

That's when Detroit Finance Director and ex-officio member of the pension board Cheryl Johnson said, "I hope that the black firefighters and the black police take a more active role in the running of this board."

Johnson was appointed by Mayor Dave Bing.

"Why does the race of somebody have anything to do with the running of the board?," asked Matt Gnatek. "I'm just curious. I'm sitting here in awe that someone would say that."

Gnatek is a Detroit homicide detective and immediate past chairman of the police and fire pension board. His wife also happens to be African American.

The exchange continued:

Johnson: "Because it does and, you know what, that's not actually pension business so we can't have that.

Gnatek: "That's why I was wondering why you said it during a pension meeting."

Johnson: "Because I was welcoming them here."

Gnatek: "That's welcoming them?"

Johnson: "Yeah. In my opinion, it is"

Gnatek talked with 7 Action News about the exchange.

"I thought it was flagrantly racist," he said. "I thought that there was no need for it. I mean, we were there, the fire fighters that were there were there for a real positive message, they were assisting us and trying to help us get our message out."

Gnatek says the black firefighters who came to the meeting last Thursday were the same ones who peacefully demonstrated their concerns about cuts coming over at bankruptcy court.

As the exchange continued, Gnatek did not back down.

Gnatek: "Hang on one second, George, I have not said anything during this whole meeting and I'm a little bit angry about that comment, because I found it extremely ridiculous."

"She owes an explanation or an apology," Gnatek told 7 Action News about Johnson. "I thought it was fragrantly disrespect to everyone in the room and everybody, all of our members."

It's not know if this issue will come up at the next meeting on Thursday, but the request for the apology is still on the table.

A spokesperson for Mayor Dave Bing says Cheryl Johnson will have no further comment on the issue.

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