Ripples spread from news of a boss behaving badly at a Lansing communications and public relations agency.
A respected blogger and a capital reporter for the Detroit Free Press on Wednesday quoted descriptions of persistent sexual harassment by TJ Bucholz, the 50-year-old chief executive of Vanguard Public Affairs. The accounts come from five women who worked there, as we excerpt with linked excerpts. (They cite offensive remarks and behavior, not inappropriate touching or relationships.)
The impact is felt swiftly with the exit of two ranking staff members.
Less than five hours after progressive activist Chris Savage of Dexter broke the story at his Eclectablog, Vanguard equity partner Jen Eyer announced on social media that she quit "due to today's revelations." She was a vice president there in 2016-17 before serving as Gretchen Whitmer's campaign communications director, and returned at the partner level. Eyer also is on Ann Arbor's City Council.
On Thursday, vice president Dave Lossing also resigned abruptly and the agency's website was taken offline except for a contact page.
In addition, Bucholz got the first signs that he's a pariah among at least some past allies:
Downtown Lansing Inc., an economic development promoter, kicked him off its board. "All victims should be believed and heard," the civic group posted on social media.
Until Wednesday, he had been on the board of the Lansing-based Central Michigan chapter of the Public Relations Society of America and recently became its president-elect -- a post now listed as "vacant."
The news creates other waves among alumnae of Vanguard, which launched in 2014 and
calls called itself "Lansing's premier public affairs team."
Past colleagues bicker online with Eyer about whether she knew, or should have known, that their CEO made some women uncomfortable with sexual remarks, intimidation, trip invitations and office drinking.
"There's a reason so many women who worked at Vanguard Public Affairs are standing together right now, and not standing with you," Lansing political consultant Abby Clark says in a Twitter exchange with the just-resigned partner.
"When [I] asked you about TJ being inappropriate, which I did early on, you explained it away. You always made it very clear you were in his corner and we were on our own. I believe all my colleagues will agree on that," adds Clark, who started Athena Strategies last September after 17 months as chief strategist at Vanguard.
Eyer tweets back: "So you knew but didn't say anything? Got it."
The same thread has this pushback from Gov. Whitmer's deputy digital and creative director since 2019:
— Tori Saylor (@tori_saylor) March 25, 2021
After the criticism, Eyer posts Thursday on Facebook that she's "heartbroken for the women he did this to." Later, in a statement to The Detroit News that's shared on Facebook "to clarify statements about me or attributed to me," she says in part:I was stunned by the recent revelations regarding TJ Bucholz’s behavior. While I never was the object of, and never witnessed, such behavior, I have a great deal of empathy for the women who were subjected to it.
Specifically, I was unaware of any such issues except for one incident several years ago with an employee who had received a text message from Bucholz. When I was shown the text message, I thought it was inappropriate. I advised the employee to contact management – other than Bucholz. I never heard another thing about it and believed that the incident had been addressed and properly resolved.
About a year later, that same employee told me that Bucholz had sent her another inappropriate text. I was very upset and immediately notified management and confronted Bucholz. Bucholz apologized to the employee and again I understood the issue was resolved. However, I was unequivocal in my condemnation of inappropriate behavior in the workplace and advised that if I was ever made aware of another incident, I would immediately terminate my employment.
Policies were put in place to ensure employees would be protected. And in the four years since, there were no more reported incidents. Sexual harassment is wrong, and I have never condoned it and I never will. ... I will always stand with anyone who is sexually harassed.
Lansing reporter Beth LeBlanc of The News enterprisingly includes this connection to a 2018 sexual harassment case in Detroit:
When former Wayne State University journalism program leader Jack Lessenberry was accused of a "long history of questionable behavior toward women" in 2018, Deadline Detroit quoted Eyer as posting this comment: "Everyone knew. No one did anything. What will the response be now?"
In the current situation, one directly affected woman sees the discussions about Thomas James (TJ) Bucholz as teachable moment for other men.
"Make sure you aren't a 'perpetrator by proxy,'" Emily Dievendorf says in a statement to Savage, the Eclectablog publisher. She details harassment when she was executive director of Equality Michigan and worked with Bucholz on a campaign.
Dievendorf urges men not to stand by silently: "Because until you take direct action to put a halt to this, it will never stop. And the next young woman who has to go through this might be someone you know or someone you love. ... Talk openly about bad actors."
State Sen. Mallory McMorrow, D-Royal Oak, echoes that call to action. "To other men, we need you to speak up when you see someone acting like this," she tweets on the topic that has Lansing abuzz. "Call it out. Tell your peers in no uncertain terms this is disgusting and unacceptable.
"Otherwise it will always be a 'women's issue' and not taken seriously. It's a workplace issue. It's everyone's issue."
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Democratic Political Consultant Accused of Sexual Harassment, March 25, 2021