Matthes Interview

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COLUMBIA - City Manager Mike Matthes broke the silence after a group of people called for his resignation at a council meeting on February 5.

Matthes said most of the response has been positive. 

"It certainly has created a conversation," he said. 

Matthes became the target of criticism after a presentation at a Columbia Values Diversity celebration last month. 

Matthes said it's important to talk about bias and its meanings. 

"If you look out there in the community, our stereotypes keep us from hiring as diverse workforce as we could," Matthes said. 

He said people need to recognize their stereotypes.

"We have to admit it, have the courage to admit we have a stereotype. I believe we do. I believe we are all raised a certain way and we view the world through that lense and so we naturally just have assumptions we make," Matthes said.

Race Matters, Friends member Suzanne Bagby said the presentation Matthes gave was inappropriate.

"On the celebration of the diversity breakfast for Dr. Martin Luther King was not the day for Mike Matthes, a white city manager to get up there and point out anything that made him uncomfortable. That was Dr. King's day," she said.
Matthes said looking back on it, he wish he would've avoided offending anyone.
"I did everything you're supposed to do with a speech like that. I wrote it carefully, I vetted it with many different groups," he said.

When asked if racism is alive and well in Columbia, Matthes said he sees it everyday.

"Racism is a legacy and albatross in our country, and we have to deal with it honestly," he said.

Matthes said the city has been working on the unemployment gap for four years.

"When we started this strategic plan African American unemployment was 15.5 percent in Columbia, where white unemployment was 5 percent," he said.

Now, he said, the unemployment rate for African Americans in Columbia is 8 percent. He was explaining those numbers at the breakfast when he made the controversial comments about bias.

"I think most folks got the message, but some didn't think I said it very well," Matthes said. 

He said the best thing he can do is sit down and talk with people in order to have a better understanding. 

"I ask them to educate me on what was offensive, so that I can avoid that in the future," Matthes said. 

Moving foward, he said race and bias will still be apart of the conversation.

"It's uncomfortable conversation for a lot of people and I will refine my language about how we talk about bias," Matthes said.