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Was Daniels Canned For CL Letter? 

County Manager says Daniels resigned; Daniels says he's hired a lawyer

Was Ahmad Daniels fired from his county job for expressing his opinion? The official version of this story is that Daniels, the county director of minority affairs and a longtime black activist, resigned from his job last week to pursue other opportunities.

What's odd about that explanation is that Daniels' resignation came 24 hours after Mecklenburg County Manager Harry Jones fired an angry email to county commissioners about a letter to the editor written by Daniels and published in Creative Loafing. In the email, Jones said he planned to "have a very serious discussion with Mr. Daniels" later that day.

During that discussion, Jones said, Daniels communicated to him that he planned to resign from his job to work on building a business he owns.

The letter to the editor which inflamed Jones gave Daniels' views on racial identity in the wake of the September 11 attacks and America's response to the attacks.

Jones and Daniels, both of whom are African-American, seemed bound to eventually clash over the issue of racial hyphenation.

After the September 11 disaster, Jones made a speech of sorts to the county commission in which he said that blacks and other minorities should consider themselves Americans, and should stop using hyphenations like "African-American."

Daniels, who works for Jones, holds the opposite opinion. In the letter published in Creative Loafing, Daniels wrote that he "bristles when John Q. Public proclaims that as a result of September 11, we are, at the drop of a hat, 'All Americans.' For other African-Americans and myself, these words ring hollow. Such words are indicative of a collective that for centuries has either been unable or unwilling to see the political oppression, economic exploitation and social degradation endured by blacks."

Daniels wrote that it was important for persons of color to realize the importance of maintaining "a hyphenated name such as African-American."

In the email to commissioners, Jones wrote that he believed Daniels' letter to be "insubordinate to the words I espoused at a previous board meeting about un-hyphenating our ethnic characterizations."

In the email, Jones told commissioners that as the son of a military man who'd fought in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, he found Daniels' letter to be "extremely discouraging and offensive" to him as an American.

Jones wouldn't disclose what he and Daniels discussed in their meeting last week.

"You are asking me to get into some personnel discussions," said Jones. "I can't do that."

But Jones may eventually have to. Daniels, who was clearly chomping at the bit to tell his story, told Creative Loafing on Sunday that he had hired an attorney to represent him in the matter.

"Surrounding my alleged resignation, well, it is still too early to say anything," said Daniels. "My attorney said not to say anything about it yet. Do you know how hard it is to say 'no comment'? There are people who are very interested in what happened to me."

Jones insists that he did not fire Daniels. But he has been clear about his opinion on Daniels' public posturing.

"We ask employees to exercise good judgment," said Jones. "If an employee is going to write letters to the editor to challenge these policies, we have a problem with that."

When asked, Jones said he wasn't sure whether county policy prohibited county employees from publicly expressing their political opinions or working for political causes. It is also unclear whether a speech made by the county manager at a commissioners' meeting is tantamount to a county policy which must be followed by county employees.

County Attorney Marvin Bethune said Monday that the county employee handbook closely echoes state statues on political activities by county employees. According to the statutes, county employees can't be restricted from affiliating with civic organizations of a partisan or political nature, attending political meetings, or advocating and supporting the principles or policies of civic or political organizations while they are off duty.

Daniels, who is particularly passionate about his opinions, has challenged county staff and the county commission in the past when he disagrees with their policies.

"This is not the first conversation that management has had with Ahmad," said one county official.

Last year, Daniels got into a bit of a scrape with the county manager when he attempted to add sexual preference to the county's definition of diversity, and announced to the media that his diversity committee staffed by county employees would be studying the need for health insurance for domestic partners of gay and straight employees.

County officials went into damage control mode, denying that the diversity committee would study domestic partner benefits. The benefits couldn't be studied by the committee because the county's definition of diversity did not include sexual orientation, county spokespeople said at the time. But rather than take the hint, Daniels pushed commissioners and county officials to change the definition of diversity. Daniels added an agenda item to commissioners' July meeting agenda requesting they approve changing the name of the minority affairs office and council to "Human and Cultural Diversity," and a backup addendum, which stated the requested name change was "more encompassing of human differences (gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, physical disability). . ."

Commissioners delayed voting on the issue, and eventually voted against the name change, which forced Daniels and the committee to drop the issue of benefits for domestic partners.

Since then, Daniels' impassioned opinions have appeared in articles in the Charlotte Post, and he has been a guest on WTVI-42's Common Threads. Daniels recently turned some heads in county management by asking that the county pay for a trip he took to South Africa for the United Nations Conference on Racism. Among other things advocated at the conference, which several Western nations boycotted or walked out of, were reparations for slavery and anti-Zionist sentiments. County officials refused to pay for the trip, so Daniels covered his own expenses.

More recently, Daniels attended a peace rally against the current military actions against terrorists in Afghanistan. A picture of Daniels holding a sign that read "International answer: act now to stop war and end racism" ran in the October 3 issue of Creative Loafing.

Bill James, a conservative Republican commissioner who has clashed with Daniels on a number of occasions in the past, said he sent Jones a short email asking if he had seen the letter to the editor in Creative Loafing before Daniels' resignation and the "discussion" between Jones and Daniels took place.

"I think Ahmad's inability to take no for an answer contributed to his lack of a harmonious working relationship (with county officials)," said James.

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