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Mayor's new Racial Equity Initiative executive director targeted for investigation in former role

The Mayor's Racial Equity Initiative announced Kimberly Henderson as executive director Thursday. She previously led the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The person tapped to help oversee the Charlotte $250-million Mayor's Racial Equity Initiative was the subject of a requested criminal investigation linked to her former job in Ohio.

The initiative announced Kimberly Henderson as executive director of the Employer Office of Inclusion and Advancement this week. That office, which she'll manage, will help "operationalize and directly support" the Mayor's Racial Equity Initiative -- a partnership of public and private funds.

Henderson stepped down as director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services in March. In the months since then, an Ohio state audit identified a "lack of controls" within that agency that resulted in $3.8 billion worth of unemployment fraud and overpayments during the pandemic. 

The state auditor said he launched the audit "after ODJFS initially failed to disclose the risk and magnitude of ongoing fraud within the unemployment system." 

Following Henderson's departure, the Ohio Attorney General's Office requested state and local police open a criminal investigation in May into "whether or not any criminal statutes were violated, including Dereliction of Duty, Obstruction of Official Business and/or Falsification by the former director and/or other staff members of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services," according to a letter obtained by WCNC Charlotte.

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In the letter, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost explained that the state’s auditor “did not have confidence in the financial information provided by the Department of Job and Family Services (JFS) and its then director, Kimberly (Hall) Henderson.” 

He specifically identified concerns about more than $400 million in taxpayer money.

Late Friday, a a spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Public Safety said the agency did not open a criminal investigation, but rather referred the matter to the Ohio Inspector General’s Office. The Columbus Police Department, meanwhile, has not yet released details.

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In a news release Thursday, MREI co-chairs Mike Lamach and Malcomb Coley lauded Henderson.

“As co-chairs of the Mayor’s Racial Equity Initiative, we are thrilled to have Kim join this important initiative as executive director,” Lamach and Coley said. “Kim's strong track record of service to communities and others, and her proven ability to convene and organize transformational civic ideas, is exactly what we need in this important moment for Charlotte.”

In that same news release, Henderson shared her excitement.

“I am honored to partner with community and faith-based organizations, higher education institutions, business, and local government to help advance this transformational initiative,” Henderson said. “Our mutual effort to promote economic opportunity for the Black community and other people of color in Charlotte has the power to impact future generations and lift the entire region.”

WCNC Charlotte sent a message to Henderson on Thursday but has yet to hear back. The governor of Ohio previously announced the newly married Henderson was moving to North Carolina.

"Mrs. Henderson is an employee of the Alliance and the City was not involved in the hiring or selection process," the City of Charlotte said in a statement.

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Henderson's personnel file from ODFPS shows no disciplinary action during her time with the agency. The Charlotte Regional Business Alliance has yet to respond to WCNC Charlotte's questions about her hiring.

The Employer Office of Inclusion and Advancement will be housed at the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance. A release said Henderson will be responsible for the implementation of the Employer Commitment workstream priorities and serve as professional executive staff to the JCSU Oversight Board and the combined Digital Divide/Corridors of Opportunity/Employer Commitment Oversight Board.

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Henderson is described as "an accomplished lawyer with more than 20 years of public sector leadership experience in Ohio." 

In her role in the Ohio governor's cabinet, a release said Henderson was "accountable for delivering human service programs to more than 2 million Ohioans, including food assistance, unemployment benefits, workforce development, child protective services, and childcare programs." Prior to her work with ODJFS, she worked as general counsel and senior vice president of administration at a large community college and also served in executive leadership roles at the state Attorney General's Office and Department of Education.

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Announced in November 2021, the Mayor's Racial Equity Initiative is aimed at bridging the digital divide, investing in Charlotte’s six “Corridors of Opportunity” neighborhoods; transforming Johnson C. Smith University into a top-tier, career-focused HBCU and catalyzing employer commitment to racial equity.

Contact Nate Morabito at nmorabito@wcnc.com and follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. 

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