Report: Kalamazoo County suspends payments to Southwest Michigan First

Kalamazoo and Battle Creek

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Commissioners have decided to put a hold on Kalamazoo County’s contributions to Southwest Michigan First in the wake of its hiring of former state House Speaker Lee Chatfield as its CEO, MiBiz reports.

Commissioners made the decision at their Tuesday meeting to suspend the remainder of the 2021 payment. The county generally sends $75,000 to the regional economic development agency each year. MiBiz said Wednesday that the 2021 payment will be prorated to between $40,000 and $50,000.

County Board Chair Tracy Hall told MiBiz she is optimistic the county and Southwest Michigan First can work together moving forward to build a “better relationship” and that she expects the full payment will resume next year.

An undated photo provided by Southwest Michigan First shows the organization’s new CEO, former House Speaker Lee Chatfield.

Chatfield, a Republican from northern Michigan who was term-limited out of the state House, tendered his resignation after a wave of community backlash to his hiring. In the less than two weeks between when Southwest Michigan First announced he had gotten the job and the time he left, the city of Kalamazoo and The Kalamazoo Promise stopped their payments to the organization.

At issue were Chatfield’s past comments on inclusion and the LGBTQ community; specifically, his opposition to adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of traits protected by Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.

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