As many of you know, I was the Montgomery County health commissioner from 2006-2008. It is a long story as to why I went to Dayton and it’s not today’s topic. Today’s topic continues to be about race and it is long, so bear with me.
First, a bit about Dayton. It is great community and part of the ‘rust belt’. It has steadily lost population since the post war boom years. It was the headquarters for National Cash Register, Standard Register, and Delco/Delphi (parts supplier for GM). Wright Patterson Airforce Base is located there. The population is 52% white and 43% Black. Many of the white former residents have ‘fled’ to the nearby suburbs, like Oakwood (birthplace of the Wright Brothers), Kettering, Centerville, etc.
During the post war boom years, jobs were plentiful. The more desirable jobs went to white men from Appalachia and the more menial jobs went to the local Black men. Dayton was the site of race riots in the 60’s and is still highly segregated today. And yes, there are protests there now in response to George Floyd’s murder.
My main job experiences prior to this had been in CA and Seattle. Neither prepared me for the racial tensions ahead.
I went through a rigorous community process to get the job. The other two candidates were white men from the local area. I am fairly sure I was selected because I was a woman and an outsider. The benefit of this process is that a number of leaders knew me and were willing to give me the benefit of the doubt.
My predecessor was a white man that I will call BB. After I got the job, BB informed me that he was going to fire a long-time manager named RB. According to BB, RB had never performed well and had been a long ago political appointment. BB said he was doing me a favor by taking this action so I wouldn’t have to deal with it and that it would blow over in a ‘few weeks’, long before I arrived. No action like that can be taken without majority approval from the Board of Health. RB is Black.
This was my first job as ‘CEO’ and, looking back, I was totally out of my league! Shortly after I arrived, I had my first public Board meeting. The room was full of Black community leaders. All spoke about the racist firing of RB. I was completely overwhelmed. There were also community protests. One of my Board members who had opposed RB’s firing used the term that he had been lynched.
I was unsure of my next step, short of quitting. I met with each of my board members and GL told me to meet with each of the Black ministers who were the community leaders. GL helped pave the way and all but one agreed to meet. I met with them on their turf. I didn’t bring any other staff or expect them to come to the health department. The gist of those meetings was that RB probably had performance issues, but the public firing was a step too far and seen as another racist act by the health department.
In hindsight, going into the community was particularly important. That didn’t solve everything but listening to their issues and committing to do better was an important first step. I made a ton of mistakes while I was there– one memorable one was having lunch with a Black female leader and referring to Rick and me as ‘the black sheep of the family’. I am still mortified by that one!
Note, RB has since passed away and here is a clip from his obituary:
Boyd’s health district job ended in controversy when his division was dissolved in 2006. Amid a lawsuit and community cries of racism, the parties settled out of court.
Looking back, my time in Dayton was an amazing personal and professional experience. It is fresh in my mind today. And I am forever grateful to Gary LeRoy, MD, my very wise board member for taking a chance on me!
This is my favorite OpEd from today’s Seattle Times on police harassment from the vantage point of a retired T-Mobile executive.