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Daniels Seeks Reinstatement

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Ahmad Daniels stated last week, during a speech at UNC-Charlotte, that he is seeking "justice" after being forced to resign from his position as Mecklenburg County minority affairs director. What that justice consists of -- financial restitution, being reinstated, or a lawsuit -- remains unclear. Daniels says he was forced to resign from his position with the county following a letter he wrote to Creative Loafing. In the letter, which Daniels stresses he wrote as a private citizen, he expressed his opinion that ethnic Americans should not drop their hyphenations (e.g., African-Aerican) following the September 11 tragedies. This was in direct contrast to sentiments county manager Harry Jones had expressed in a September commissioners meeting. At that time, Jones said that, in light of September 11, people should see themselves as Americans first, and "un-hyphenate" their ethnic differences.

Daniels' letter didn't go over too well with Jones and some members of the County Commission. According to Daniels, he was called into Jones' office in October where he was told to hand in his resignation or he would be fired.

"I was incredulous," Daniels said in his speech. "I couldn't believe it. Rather than let them fire me, I resigned the next day."

But Daniels says he has since reconsidered his actions, and is now fighting for reinstatement to his position, although during last week's speech he expressed doubts about ever being able to work within his previous environment again, for fear of being "micro-managed."

Daniels also drew parallels between what he described as a prevailing climate of arrogance in the country and, in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, an emerging pattern of workplace intimidation and suppression of free speech. It was this climate of suppression that Daniels said he was facing back in October when he was forced to resign.

"As the director of minority affairs, shouldn't I have a voice in opposition to the majority, but still be a part of the team?" he asked. "I've been wronged and I'm looking for justice." Daniels urged those in attendance at last week's speech to attend the December 18 county commissioners meeting to protest what he says is an infringement of his freedom of speech.

Deborah Ross, Executive and Legal Director of the ACLU of North Carolina, said there's a whole body of law on public employees and free speech rights that appears to apply to Daniels' situation.

"Employees are allowed to speak on matters of public concern, but it cannot be in a way that disrupts their work environment," Ross said. "This case does seem to satisfy the fact that it was a matter of public concern, but whether or not it was a disruption to the workplace is a factual question that I can't answer."

While Daniels remains reticent concerning his future plans, he has enlisted the services of Charlotte attorney Pender McElroy. A recent advertisement in the Charlotte Post requested contributions to Daniels' legal defense fund. When asked if a lawsuit against the county is in the works, McElroy said, "the purpose of my representation is to advise Daniels about his rights against the county. He's taken no action as of yet. What he's going to do is still under consideration." *

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