By Jan Worth-Nelson
Responding to the discord and six arrests at a town hall last night at the House of Prayer Missionary Baptist Church, Mayor Karen Weaver said she found the events of the evening “unfortunate” but that assuring orderly process was necessary.
Speaking today through her public information officer Kristin Moore, she said she did not know about the arrests until after the meeting was over.
In a statement provided by Moore, Weaver said, “The whole purpose of the town hall was for people to ask questions, get answers and information about the water source recommendation.”
“In order for that to happen and for any meeting to be productive,” she said, “there has to be order and people need to be respectful of one another regardless of where a meeting is held.”
After an opening prayer by the church’s pastor, Kenneth Stewart, Weaver started the meeting by asking pastors in the house to stand up and be acknowledged for their support in the water crisis. She also recognized council members Eric Mays and Monica Galloway. Council president Kerry Nelson appeared at the town hall meeting later, but a phone call and email to reach him today about the ejections at the end of the meeting were not returned.
No one arrested for not removing a hat
City of Flint police chief Tim Johnson was a visible presence at the meeting, and made a statement at the beginning of the meeting to set ground rules. He announced that men needed to remove their hats. “This is a church,” he said, “so please remove your hats. If you don’t know, ladies are okay but gentlemen can not wear hats so please remove them.
Further, he said, “If somebody’s talking, please respect that person. And don’t try to disrupt this meeting — If you do, I’m going to take you to the back door and you’re going to jail.”
“As for the arrests made,” the Mayor’s statement said, “the police chief said it should be known that no one was arrested, or asked to leave the town hall, for wearing a hat.” Confirming that six people were arrested, she said the charges consist of disruptive behavior, assaulting an officer and interfering with police.
Separation of church and state?
At the meeting and in many Facebook posts today, some criticized the administration for holding the town hall at a church, which some said constituted a violation of the separation of church and state. Noting that one speaker had been ejected for using the “F” word, Nancy Burgher, for example, stated during the town hall, ““Politics and this church don’t match. We should be able to speak.”
The mayor disputed that notion.
“Please note, since the mayor began holding town hall meetings last year, they have taken place at a variety of venues including Hasselbring Senior Center, Brennan Community Center, UAW Local 1D, Northbank Center etc.
“We’ve tried to have the meetings in various locations around the City of Flint to make it convenient for more residents to attend, she said. “The size of a facility is also a consideration.”
“Churches often open their doors to us free of charge and we appreciate that,” she stated. ” There is nothing unusual about having a community meeting at a church.”
She said she does not see this as a violation of the separation of church and state and noted that churches are also used as polling sites for voting in elections. Further, she said, “there is also nothing unusual or wrong with beginning a meeting with prayer. All Flint City Council meetings begin with prayer.”
[See related story as Woodside pastor Deb Conrad weighs in.]
EVM editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.