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Union accuses STA official of racist comments on Facebook

UPDATED: Tue., June 12, 2018, 7:57 p.m.

STA buses display a thank you on their reader sign, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016, after Proposition 1 was passed on Tueday evening. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
STA buses display a thank you on their reader sign, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016, after Proposition 1 was passed on Tueday evening. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

The union representing workers at Spokane Transit Authority said Tuesday it discovered “disturbing, racist comments” made by the agency’s director of human resources.

At a news conference, Thomas Leighty, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1015, said the human resources director, Nancy Williams, should resign or be fired for the “explicitly and vilely racist” comments she made on Facebook in January 2017. Williams was hired by STA in March 2017, according to its website.

“STA has a diverse workforce and serves a diverse riding public. You can’t allow someone who says and defends this type of racist garbage to be collecting a public salary and be making decisions about the fates of public workers,” Leighty said.

Beth Bousley, STA’s spokeswoman, said the transit agency had learned about the accusations from the news conference. She released a statement from the agency pledging to “take immediate action to investigate.”

“Spokane Transit has an unwavering commitment to diversity and non-discrimination in each and every level of the organization,” the STA statement said. “From our hiring practices to our transit planning outreach, or the services we provide to thousands of people every day, our goal is to be a source of pride for the region. We can only be that by ensuring an environment where everyone is treated equally, and with dignity.”

The Facebook comments, which were shared via screen grab by the union, allegedly show Williams sharing a video about a developmentally disabled man being attacked by young African-Americans in a racially charged assault. In her post, Williams wrote, “Thought I would see more outrage on Facebook about this … these ‘kids’ are despicable animals.”

The 30-minute video showing the attack streamed on the social media site and quickly went viral. It showed four African-Americans in their 20s cutting the 18-year-old white victim’s scalp with a knife. They laughed as they punched and kicked the man, who was bound and gagged.

The four people who made the video have been charged. So far, two of them have been sentenced. One woman is serving a three-year prison sentence on charges of intimidation and aggravated assault. Her sister, who live-streamed the video, is serving four years probation. The two men in the video have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Beverly Nan Murphy, who is later identified in the post as Williams’ aunt, replied to the video, calling Barack Obama a “creature.” In the same comment she wrote, “If you don’t teach primates at an early age, (no matter what skin they are in) they continue to be non-civilized.”

Williams “liked” the comment, and came to her aunt’s defense after someone called it the “dumbest comment I’ve read today.”

“Seems like many others agree with my aunts comments,” Williams wrote.

Leighty said the union demanded a “full, independent investigation” and said Williams should resign.

The union began looking into the Facebook post after Roseanne Barr tweeted a racist comment, leading to the cancellation of her show on ABC, Leighty said.

A member of the union recalled seeing Williams’ post and notified the union last week.

Leighty said the union didn’t approach STA Chief Executive Officer Susan Meyer with the accusations, saying “it is well-known that Susan and Nancy are friends in addition to colleagues.”

He said the union also feared Williams would try to “cover this up” if they notified her before the public.

Lori Kinnear, a Spokane City councilwoman who sits on STA’s board of directors, said she was reluctant to cast judgment without knowing all the facts but said the matter rested in Meyer’s hands.

“The board is not in charge of staff. That is Susan Meyer’s job, to investigate, to find out if it’s true or not,” Kinnear said. “That’s not the board’s function.”

Kinnear said she trusts Meyer to deal with the accusations appropriately.

“She’s principled,” she said. “You’ve seen repeated examples of that.”