Dr. Joan Jackson Johnson retires as Lansing’s Director of Human Relations and Community Services

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LANSING, MI (WILX) - Dr. Joan Jackson Johnson has retired as Lansing’s Director of Human Relations and Community Services.

Lansing's Director of Human Relations and Community Services Joan Jackson Johnson has been placed on paid administrative leave. (Source: City of Lansing)

According to the City of Lansing, Saturday morning, Johnson submitted a letter to Mayor Schor that she has retired from her position as the Director of Human Relations and Community Services (HRCS), effective immediately.

This comes after an external audit revealed financial mismanagement in her department and conflicts of interest not being disclosed.

Johnson worked for the City of Lansing for the last 15 years.

“I have complete confidence in the staff at HRCS to continue to provide the important and necessary services to those in need in the City of Lansing,” Lansing Mayor Andy Schor said in a statement Saturday morning.

Lansing placed Johnson on paid administrative leave on January 9, after the audit was completed.

The audit, which was made public on January 27, names several organizations, individuals and charities Jackson Johnson worked with despite alleged conflicts of interest.

They include Connect 4 Kids, Helping Women Period, Advent House Ministries, Loaves and Fishes Ministries, Capital Area Health Alliance, Capital Area Community Services, Inc., and One Church One Family (OCOF).

The audit found Jackson Johnson awarded money to OCOF, which she served as director and president. It also says she gave tax dollars to Advent House for OCOF. The documents say the money was to pay an Advent House employee to maintain OCOF's properties.

Executive Director of Advent House Susan Cancro says she was surprised but the organization is focused on continuing to help the community.

"I'm not an attorney and I'm not an auditor and I'm not God. I don't know what goes through people's minds, but I can tell you what I know as a human being from my experience and what I know is when good people do good things in the community it has good results. And we've had many many good results in our community from the work that's been done over these years," said Cancro.

The audit report says the money was made in five payments from 2012 through 2015. It says it's not clear if the payments would constitute a violation, just that they appear to violate the spirit of the city's rules, regulations and laws regarding ethics.

"Any money we have from the city, any money we get from the county or from the federal government or the state--all of that money is contracted and all of those contracts are reviewed and signed and we have to adhere to the restrictions of those contracts and we have done that for many years we've been very good about keeping our contracts in good shape and doing what we're supposed to do," said Cancro.

Cancro says she's talked with her team and they are focused on moving forward addressing issues of homelessness in the community.

"You can't dwell and say 'oh we have to stop acting and stop doing what we're doing'. No, we have to continue. We need to continue our work and not stop because our folks need help and that never ends," said Cancro.

The audit also found Jackson Johnson did not properly disclose she was awarding money to one charity where her husband was treasurer (Loaves and Fishes Ministries) and another where her daughter was on the board (Helping Women Period).

Lysne Tait, Executive Director of Helping Women Period (HWP), said the organization had no knowledge of any allegations of conflicts of interests regarding Jackson Johnson.

"We are grateful for funding from the City of Lansing, which was used—in combination with other grants and donations—to purchase and distribute menstrual products to partner organizations. The $7,500 grant from the city was awarded and expended before Nikki Johnson, the daughter of former Director of Human Resources Joan Jackson Johnson, joined our board in June 2019. As a best practice, Nikki signed a standard conflict of interest form, which we have on file. As a young nonprofit entering our sixth year, HWP has been in the process of growing and diversifying our board leadership. We appreciate the leadership Ms. Johnson has shown our organization," said Tait.

Former HRCS Director Willard Walker will serve as Acting Director for the HRCS Department until a new director is announced.