By Jan Worth-Nelson
Eight candidates for mayor in Flint assured an audience of about 75 Thursday night at the Flint Public Library that they are about The People, that city government needs a change, and that each of them is the best one to deliver that change.
Not one of the eight endorsed the proposal by Flint Mayor Karen Weaver for a 30-year contract to supply water to the city through the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA), the pipes coming from Lake Huron through Detroit. Opinions about what to do instead varied widely. All eight called for efforts to reduce water rates for residents, which are among the highest in the nation.
Several — Arthur Woodson, Angela Ward, Sean MacIntyre — said they would accept GLWA, but only if the proposed contract was renegotiated as a shorter-term deal or on a range of different terms.
Jeff Shelley and Don Pfeiffer said they opted for the Karegnondi Pipeline Authority (KWA) as the city’s water source, though with qualifications in either case. Tony Palladeno said he was suspicious of GLWA because of who was behind that proposal — the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) — “who brought this all [the water crisis] on us to start with” and said he hoped the city could control its own water through the existing plant.
Longtime city councilman Scott Kincaid, who gave up running for council again to run for mayor and has been deeply involved in the council’s resistance to Weaver’s proposal, also advocated a plan to invest in the city’s own water plant on Dort Highway so that the city could produce its own water, with GLWA or the KWA as backup sources.
“All I’ve asked for,” he said, “is an independent analysis” for how to get a “reliable, sustainable, affordable, quality water source” for the city.
Ronald Higgerson declared the city should reject both options and then see who would offer the city the best deal.
The KWA, a new pipeline also providing water from Lake Huron but through a more direct route than GLWA, had been planned as the city’s water source until the temporary use of Flint River water while the pipeline was completed led to the water crisis that has dominated and damaged Flint’s collective life for four years. The drama of the pipelines, which ones to use, how much each would cost, who was to blame for the water crisis, and the effect of decisions made by a series of state-appointed emergency managers in the past six years, were in the foreground of the forum discussion, moderated by Sinclair Broadcasting/NBC-25 reporter Drew Moore.
And then there was cannabis. Candidate Ronald Higgerson’s repeated assertions that municipal cultivation of medical marijuana is the path to Flint’s prosperity came up so often that the crowd began to laugh whenever he brought it up — until two other candidates–Sean MacIntyre and Tony Palladeno–suggested on his behalf that the idea actually was worth considering.
Higgerson labeled medical marijuana “a growth industry” and said the city should jump on revenue possibilities, before “big business” takes it over.
Severe squabbling between the Flint City Council and the mayor — as well as the chaos characteristic of many council meetings– was the target of several candidates’ remarks. To applause and laughter, MacIntyre said he thought the whole council should go through “Roberts Rules of Order” training. Pfeiffer predicted new faces on the council will help, and said under his leadership, “we can start off from a place of trust without the bickering.” Woodson lamented what he labeled as “cronyism” in city government and said it would stop under his leadership. Shelley said “if you don’t have communication, you don’t have anything” and he and MacIntyre both said they would institute an open-door policy in their administrations.
Candidates also called for revamping of the city’s police services. Kincaid said it is “unacceptable” to have long waits for responses to 9-1-1- calls and for police to drive city officials around town and “knock on doors” with recall information, as has been alleged of Weaver. Palladeno noted the time when Flint police had a horse patrol and got to know people one-to-one and called for a return to better neighborhood policing. Pfeiffer said among his first priorities would be getting more police on the streets “immediately.”
On questions of longer-term progress for the city, almost all candidates proposed improvements in the city’s approach to economic development and infrastructure revamping.
Pfeiffer, a building contractor, said the city badly needs an economic development director seeking to bring business in, contending “Flint is very sellable,” with an abundance of water, colleges, and affordable housing.
While several of the candidates said they opposed tax abatements (“why are we giving away our assets?” Palladeno queried), Shelley argued they are good for the city. “If business leaves, there are no jobs and then we have poverty,” he said. “We have the land, the water, and people willing to work.”
Pfeiffer noted that the city should consider possibilities for agricultural processing, saying that the state is a large producer of cranberries, but they are shipped to Texas for processing when that work could be done here–in Flint–if the water plant was rehabbed.
Ward asserted as mayor “we need to make amends with K-12 schools, that are full of asbestos” and advocated for solar energy, better technology and more sports in the schools. She also called for closer scrutiny of the Land Bank which, she said, is “taking scraps and giving it to their nephews.” She said illiteracy was a problem in the city, but that many people have talents that could be developed through grants for projects that could “put these people to work with their hands.”
Woodson, who initiated the recall effort against Mayor Weaver that has led to the Nov. 7 election, said. “I got into this because I didn’t trust Kincaid and because I thought Weaver is running us into the ground. The council is not always fair, either. I am the person who will stand up for the residents.”
Shelley said he believed the city was using “water rates as taxation, and that’s illegal, forcing people to choose between water and food, and that’s not right.”
Pfeiffer, who said his eight-year-old son was lead-poisoned, said speaking as a contractor he believes repairs to the city’s infrastructure could be completed in two years. “The fix is not complicated,” he said. “Politicians always want to complicate the simplest things, but what it takes is roiling up your sleeves and getting it done. That’s the most important thing for my children and your children — to fix the water so we can promote the city for the asset that it is.”
In addition to calling for “indoor agriculture” of medical marijuana, Higgerson prompted a call for clarification from moderator Drew Moore when Higgerson said “we have to stop shooting the customers.” Higgerson said he had left Flint in 1983 and came back in 2008, moving into the East Side. He said if he left his windows open at night, he would hear 200 to 300 gunshots per night, though he said it has decreased somewhat since.
In concluding remarks, Kincaid said “Jobs are the key to this community,” and that a coordinated economic development plan for the city is both necessary and missing under the current administration. “The only way to unlock that door is to have an economic development director and a mayor who focuses on it and markets the whole city.”
Palladeno issued a plea for programs to help the city’s youth, suggesting that a lot of skilled GM retirees would be glad to come out of retirement to help train young people for jobs as welders, electricians, plumbers in the city. He called for attention to the needs of struggling single mothers, saying the city should try to rehab and give them homes of their own as a way to build pride and neighborhood stability.
MacIntyre also advocated whatever would encourage home ownership, stating the “the more homeowners we have, the more people will do the right thing and have community pride.” He also added that as a political outsider, he has not had access to all the information about the city’s problems, but that he would welcome “all good ideas” from whatever source. He said he believes the city needs “restorative justice” and he would work toward that end.
Other candidates in addition to the eight candidates featured at the forum are David Davenport, Chris Del Morone, Woody Etherly, Anderson Fernanders, Ray Hall, Brent Jaworski, Ellery Johnson, Alvin Wamsley, and of course, incumbent mayor Karen Weaver. An additional candidate, David Meier, has abandoned his campaign following revelations that he had lied about being a Congressional Medal of Honor winner.
The election was triggered by a recall effort against the mayor. If she wins the most votes, the recall will have failed and she will continue as mayor. If she does not get the most votes, whoever does will be the city’s new mayor as soon as the election results are certified.
The forum was co-sponsored by Sinclair Broadcasting/NBC-TV25 and FlintBeat, run by publisher and editor-in-chief Jiquanda Johnson.
EVM Editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.