Guilford County Commissioner Carolyn Coleman said this week that she is disturbed by what she claims is a racially unfair work environment at the Piedmont Authority for Regional Transportation (PART).
PART is a unit of local government that provides public transportation throughout 10 counties in central North Carolina.
Coleman stated that, when she brought her concerns to PART CEO and General Manager Scott Rhine, he hung up the phone on her. She added that the PART Board of Directors refused to vote in favor of holding a closed session to discuss the events – which included a personnel matter.
Coleman, who serves as Guilford County’s representative on the 22-member PART board, said she wanted the entire board to hear what went on and have Rhine and PART employees undergo diversity training and racial sensitivity training.
Coleman said that she was concerned over a personnel issue regarding an African-American female who had worked at PART. Coleman said she could not go into the specific nature of the complaint since it was a personnel issue that, by law, must remain private. However, Coleman did say that the incident she was informed about caused her great concern, especially in light of what happened at PART several years ago.
In that incident, during a Halloween dress-up day at the PART office, there was a complaint that one man brought a “noose” to the party. The man with the “noose” was dressed as a rodeo performer and – while some saw no harm in bringing the rope that rodeo performers use to catch cattle – at least one person at the party complained that the noose was an offense to black workers at PART since nooses were also used in lynchings.
Years ago, when that happened, Coleman also complained but did not get any satisfaction.
“Nothing happened to that employee,” Coleman said this week.
Coleman has been on the PART board for over a decade, and, when the recent incident occurred, she contacted two fellow PART board members – Greensboro City Councilmembers Marikay Abuzuaiter and Sharon Hightower.
At the PART board meeting last week, Coleman requested a closed session to discuss the newest incident that allegedly involved race. However, the vast majority of the board voted not to go into a closed session, so the personnel matter wasn’t discussed at the meeting.
Coleman said it was appalling that Rhine, PART’s CEO, hung up on her when she brought the matter to his attention.
She said she was also concerned, based on what she’d observed, that male employees were getting better treatment at PART than female employees, and there also seemed to be racial bias at play.
“I don’t appreciate him hanging up on me,” Coleman said.
Coleman said the PART Board has a duty to oversee Rhine and that Rhine in no way treated her with the respect owed to one’s boss.
Rhine said he has a great deal of respect for Coleman and her long-time service as a board member, but he said there were no racial motives in the recent personnel action that Coleman was concerned about.
Rhine said that PART – both in its employee makeup and ridership – is very diverse, and he added that, despite Coleman’s claims, the office has ample diversity training.
“We do it all the time,” Rhine said, adding that “It’s unfortunate Ms. Coleman is not in my office every day,” so she can observe things firsthand.
Rhine also said that, yes, after roughly an hour on a phone call with Coleman that was going nowhere, he did say, “This conversation is over,” and hung up the phone.