A Michigan public school board will petition Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to remove a member who refuses to resign amid public outrage over his criminal behavior.
The unprecedented move follows weeks of acrimony created by a Black Lives Matter resolution introduced this summer by Mona Shores Board of Education member Wesley Wilson, a student at West Michigan’s Grand Valley State University.
The resolution accused the Norton Shores community along Lake Michigan of concocting “racist housing policies, and intentional urban planning that prevented people of color from even entering white spaces, let alone establishing themselves in the city in any permanent way.” It also tasked the district with hiring “a more diverse group” of school staff, teachers and administrators, and called for curriculum to incorporate Black Lives Matter principles to “address institutionalized racism in our schools and community.”
The BLM resolution, approved unanimously by the school board on June 29, ignited fierce public debate online and focused attention on Wilson, which unearthed criminal charges he faced in 2018 while serving on the school board that were never publicly addressed by his colleagues.
Wilson was accused of misusing university funds under false pretenses after he purchased plane tickets to Las Vegas for the College Democrats of America Convention using GVSU funds in 2017.
According to a 69-page report filed by GVSU Police Department, Wilson took advantage of a university policy that funds 50 percent of expenses for approved student organized trips.
Wilson reportedly applied for enough funding to cover 10 students even though only five students were attending the event, thus covering the students’ full expenses, according to witnesses interviewed by police.
Wilson did not tell the four other students that he had misused the funds, witnesses told police. He also had invited two non-GVSU students on the trip, even though only GVSU students are eligible for the funds, according to the police report.
Wilson was initially charged with felony larceny by false pretense and pleaded no contest in April 2018 to misdemeanor larceny.
Norton Shores city councilman Dan Olson in August submitted a public information request to the Mona Shores School District for the board’s response to the criminal charge and the district produced emails between board president Stan Miller and Wilson that hinted at other allegations against Wilson.
The emails show Wilson submitted a letter of resignation on April 19, 2018 in light of his criminal troubles, with an effective date of May 31. Four minutes before that deadline, at 11:56 p.m. May 30, Wilson withdrew his resignation.
“This is very disappointing, especially in light of the recent personnel issue, your disengagement at the May 7 meeting and your absence at the May 14 meeting while we were dealing with critical decisions,” Miller wrote in response.
“If the father of the young lady hears about the current personnel issue and learns that you have not resigned, he could make a compelling case in public that the Board creates a culture that condones such behavior. That would put public trust in us in serious jeopardy at a time when we cannot afford it.”
The emails and rescinded resignation came around the same time the district’s athletic director was swiftly forced to resign amid unspecified “rumors” of inappropriate conduct.
Olson attempted to raise questions about Wilson’s criminal history, the board’s response at the school board’s most recent virtual meeting on Aug. 5. After waiting hours to speak during the public comment period, Miller muted Olson when he referenced the controversy. More than a dozen others spoke against the BLM resolution.
Miller acknowledged that the school board learned about Wilson’s larceny from a phone call – “I don’t recall from whom” – and discussed the matter in an executive session in April 2018, but he claimed the board did not alert the public on the advice of the district’s legal counsel.
Miller will not discuss the apparent issue between Wilson and the “young lady” or other relevant details of the controversy to protect his colleague’s privacy, he said.
Miller said the concerns about the “young lady” was “in reference to a conversation we had in closed session that’s protected from disclosure.”
Miller simply repeated that phrasing when questioned about other aspects of the board’s handling of the situation.
“We were advised by counsel that because the allegations didn’t involve his position as a board member that he had a right to privacy,” Miller said. “That conversation occurred in closed session.”
“We followed the advice of counsel. I think the public has a right to raise questions and my response is we followed the advice of counsel,” he said.
Miller defended his decision to mute Olson from speaking at the board meeting “to protect the rights of the board member,” he said.
Miller noted he invited Olson to submit his concerns in writing, but he has not.
“What I can tell you is no one from the community had any interest in this or any knowledge until Mr. Wilson drafted the Black Lives Matter resolution,” Miller said. “Suddenly, his past has been dredged up in personal attacks against him.”
Regardless of the motive, Olson and countless others commenting at board meetings and on local Facebook groups insist that a board member who stole from a public university doesn’t deserve the right to govern taxpayer affairs and spend taxpayer money.
“He should have resigned two years ago and should resign now,” Olson said. “Accept responsibility and move on.”
So far, Wilson has resisted with encouragement from local liberal activists like former state Rep. Mary Valentine.
“Here is a copy of the resolution passed unanimously by the Mona Shores School District. The young man who introduced this resolution is now under attack for an indiscretion of several years ago. We need to support him and support this resolution,” Valentine posted to Facebook.
Last Monday, the Mona Shores School Board officially censured Wilson and requested his resignation by 5 p.m. Thursday, with a promise to request that Whitmer to remove him if he doesn’t comply. The situation puts the liberal governor in the position of removing a liberal school board member, at the request of a liberal leaning school board. District insiders and education watchdogs contend such a request is unprecedented in Michigan.
“We have not received a resignation from Mr. Wilson,” Miller said Tuesday. “I am preparing that petition and it will need to go through our attorney before it can go to the governor.
“I’ve reached out to the governor’s office, but I haven’t heard,” he said.
Instead of a resignation, Wilson offered apologies and excuses.
“Do not be mistaken or let this distract from the real issue at hand — the attacks and intimidation made against me by some community leaders have been brought upon because of support for BLM,” he wrote in a prepared statement.
“There is such obvious political motivation behind the few community members who have encouraged the board to pursue such actions. The motion for censure was rushed; there was no investigation or fact finding as would typically be done by a board in these situations. There should have been more due process before such drastic action is taken against an elected official, whether me or anyone else.”