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Carmel’s 1st Black equity director says firing was discriminatory

CARMEL, Ind. (WISH) — Timothy Knight was the first equity director for the Carmel city government.

The position, he says, became official in January.

However, just last week, he was fired.

“I was (told) I was fired for insubordination,” Knight told I-Team 8. “There were no warnings. There was no coaching. There were no indicators that my behavior wasn’t welcomed.”

Knight says while he tried to change the culture, he ended up experiencing discrimination in the workplace.

“The end of December 2021, I became concerned about who would support the work, who would provide me with the guidance, and who would advocate for the work, and my principal argument was that this work really does belong near the top of the food chain,” Knight said.

He touts over a decade of working in government, including jobs as a police officer, a social science researcher, and a homicide investigator.

Knight says he was instructed by Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard to avoid “critical race theory.” Shortly afterward, Knight says he was told by his direct manager “not to expect any support from his team.”

When I-Team 8 reached out to Brainard’s office, a spokesperson said the city government could not discuss personnel matters but shared a statement.

“Dr. Knight was chosen to fill the position of  DEI officer. The city strives to be fair in all its employee decisions and hire the best people for each position, regardless of race. Dr. Knight’s supervisor chose to terminate Dr. Knight. The city, as standard policy, doesn’t discuss individual personnel issues.”

Statement from Carmel city government

However, I-Team 8 found another city government worker who says she believes she’s faced similar discrimination.

“That place … they’ve gone backwards in time,” said Michele Leaks, a former employee benefits manager for the city government. “We first started the diversity and equity training. We did a survey of employees and so a lot of employees said things like ‘We don’t need that’ or ‘I work with a Black person and they really don’t want to leg up just because they’re Black.’”

Leaks says many of those comments came after the George Floyd riots in 2020. She says she left on her own terms in October after serving nearly two years in her position. She says she was hopeful things would get better when Knight took his position and was shocked when she heard he was fired.

“The first thought that came to my mind, as a person of color, is ‘Did he speak in a manner that challenged your authority?’” Leaks said. “It just feels like a time, a land that time forgot.”

Knight says he and Leaks were the only Black people in the city government’s human resources department and no Black people are in leadership. He says a diverse culture is “top down.”

“The space isn’t yours,” Knight said. “You have a key. You have a pass code. People speak to you, but you’re not given the same level of tolerance as other people in this space.”

I-Team 8 asked the Republican mayor what he was doing to address race and equity in the workplace. A spokesperson sent I-Team 8 a statement.

“Mayor Brainard established Carmel’s Advisory Commission on Human Relations 13 years ago. The mission of the Commission is to advise the Mayor on ways to better recognize and appreciate the contributions of our citizens of all races and ancestries, and to identify obstacles that may prevent full citizen participation in all civic and other activities taking place within Carmel’s corporate boundaries. The Commission serves as a forum for citizens to informally raise and discuss situations in our community that involve possible prejudice, intolerance or bigotry that adversely affects the public welfare.

The Mayor also established the Carmel Interfaith Alliance about five years ago to address similar issues and bring together leaders within the various faiths and cultures of our community.

The police department staff of officers currently has 16.5 percent of minority officers, 5 percent are African American, because the Mayor strongly believes the police department should be representative of all members of the community.

Last year, the Mayor and Carmel City Council established and funded the City’s first Diversity, Equity and Inclusion position and that position was advertised at minority job fairs, similar to the way our police department has done in the past as they have worked to include minorities.

Statement from Carmel city government