By Meghan Christian
Tensions remained high at the Flint City Council (FCC) throughout November, a month highlighted by disagreements and accusations of racism and sexism from Fourth Ward Councilperson Kate Fields and Ninth Ward Councilperson Eva Worthing directed against First Ward Councilperson Eric Mays.
The tensions first came to a head when Fields and Worthing held a press conference the day after an investigative finanical hearing chaired by Mays where, according to Fields and Worthing, Mays made it impossible for them to ask questions and Fields commented Mays was the most racist person she had ever met.
In response, Mays stated, “I am appalled people would go on TV and call me a racist.”
Of the many residents in attendance at the Nov.12 FCC meeting, the dozen who spoke during the public speaking portion of the meeting nearly all touched on various aspects of this issue, including how council members should interact with one another, how they felt about Fields claiming that Mays is one of the most racist people she has ever met, and what they felt FCC should be doing.
“You should stop that,” resident Audrey Mohammad said to Fields and Worthing in regards to what she said she saw as trying to turn members of FCC against Mays. “You go against everything that (Mays) tries to put into action… Just know that when you start making the racist comments, take a step back,” she concluded.
“He is not a racist,” resident Richard Jones stated in support of Mays.
Not all those who spoke supported Mays, however. Resident Quincy Murphy seemed to support Fields and Worthing, saying that as a man he does not personally feel women should be talked to the way Mays talks to female members of council.
“I don’t agree with how Eva Worthing and Kate Fields and Monica Galloway has been talked to,” Murphy said. He added they were elected just like everyone else, and “just because you don’t agree with them doesn’t mean you have to talk to them in a different tone of voice,” Murphy said.
Residents Arthur Woodson and Gina Luster both suggested FCC consider taking diversity classes to try to breach the gaps between certain members. “We all have flaws, but it is how you address them,” Luster said.
“Quit the bickering and learn to get along… I shouldn’t have to address you, you should do your damn jobs,” Dorothy Batchelder, 75, said.
FCC members also voiced their opinions on the issues they see facing the council.
“I’m hoping that we can get past our differences and work together. Yes, we do have some racial issues going on…but we also have personality clashes,” Fifth Ward Councilperson Jerri Winfrey-Carter said. “I’m going to appeal to my colleagues: let’s just stop and let’s just come together and take care of the business of this city.”
“Racism you can’t hide,” Second Ward Councilperson Maurice Davis said.
However, not all of his colleagues agree that racism on FCC is the issue.
“My concern isn’t racism,” Seventh Ward Councilperson Monica Galloway said. She added these kinds of issues shouldn’t be brought up during official meetings. “I just don’t think that this council is equipped to deal with that and it shouldn’t have a place doing city business,” she said.
“I don’t believe that we have out of all of the nine councilpeople… I don’t believe that any one of us are racist,” Council President Herbert Winfrey said. “We have heard our constituents say that they don’t want to hear us slamming each other…, but it is okay to disagree with one another.”
Worthing and Fields both commented that residents should go back and review the videos of the meetings taped by Spectacle Productions and streamed via YouTube. “Watch the videos. Don’t just believe what someone has told you,” Worthing said.
In other business, council elections
The council also held its annual elections during November where the president and vice president are appointed, and decision are made on which chairs and committees are deemed necessary.
Sixth Ward Councilperson Herb Winfrey was re-elected council president by a vote of five in favor of Winfrey, three in favor of Fields, and one in favor of Mays. Those in support of Winfrey were Mays, Third Ward Councilperson Santino Guerra, Fifth Ward Councilperson Jerri Winfrey-Carter, Winfrey, and Seventh Ward Councilperson Monica Galloway. Those in favor of Fields were Fields, Eighth Ward Councilperson Allan Griggs, and Worthing. Second Ward Councilperson Maurice Davis was in support of Mays.
Galloway was reelected as council vice president by a vote of six in favor. Those who supported Galloway were Mays, Guerra, Fields, Winfrey-Carter, Winfrey, and Galloway. Davis supported Mays and both Griggs and Worthing supported Fields.
After elections, Council President Winfrey addressed his colleagues and stated his belief that the chairs of the committees they currently have – Rules, Finance, Legislative, Governmental Operations, and Special Affairs – should stay the same until they are all able to meet one-on-one and discuss the appointments.
Reflecting on the ongoing tensions surrounding the council, some members urged their colleagues to look beyond the discord and think of the residents they each represent. “When it comes to these elected positions that we have, I believe that we should serve the public better and we should be an example to those young folks out there and our communities,” Council President Winfrey said.
Referring to the residents of Flint, Maurice Davis said, “We owe them better than what we are giving them.”
EVM Managing Editor Meghan Christian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.