By Meghan Christian
The Flint Ethics and Accountability Board (EAB) has passed another month since it was established by the new City Charter 18 months ago without hiring an ombudsman, one of the group’s main jobs.
But the group did welcome a new member, addressed potential issues with accepting complaints, and discussed plans for 2019 during their brief meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 22. Absent from the meeting were Fourth Ward appointee Nicolas D’Aigle and Sixth Ward appointee Delores Langston.
As described in previous East Village Magazine coverage, the EAB is a requirement of the charter adopted by voters in August, 2017 by a 2-1 vote and which was to have taken effect in January, 2018. The charter calls for 11 members, comprised of one member from each ward and two members appointed by the mayor. Terms on the board are staggered, meaning each of the 11 members serve a different number of years, to ensure that there is always someone on the board with experience.
The board’s main functions, as set out in the charter, include appointing an ombudsperson and hearing resident concerns. The board is empowered to hold public servants accountable per the ethical standards outlined in the charter. This power manifests in various ways, outlined in the charter, from calling hearings to subpoena powers, should it be necessary.
Bob Gallagher replaced Eric Roebuck as the Ninth Ward appointee to the EAB Jan.14 by a unanimous vote of the Flint City Council. Asked by Second Ward Councilperson Maurice Davis how he would be able to handle bias, Gallagher stated, “I am an honest person. We’re all brothers and sisters here. We need to get along.”
“We’re grown ups, you need to act that way,” he added.
As of the Jan. 22 meeting, the EAB has received a total of three complaints, which Third Ward appointee Linda Boose has been holding onto in the interim until the board hires an ombudsperson. However, the way the board has dealt with complaints has raised some potential flags for some residents of Flint.
Quincy Murphy, former member of the Charter Review Commission, addressed a concern about how a complaint was handled in a previous meeting during the public speaking portion of the Jan. 22 meeting. “Attorney Alex Gibbs filed a complaint. One of your colleagues turned around and gave that complaint to a councilperson for them to read. I thought that was unethical,” Murphy said. “It could have came across as intimidating to the person filing the complaint and I think that you guys should look at…signing a confidentiality statement.”
“If I file a complaint with you guys, I don’t expect my complaint to get turned around and given to the person who the complaint might have been filed against. It is very intimidating. Some of us already feel like we can’t come to council and voice our concerns and complaints without being degraded by certain council people,” Murphy said. “I was appalled and I felt that I needed to come here and say something.”
Executive Assistant and Office Manager Davina Donahue reminded the EAB that Gibbs, who made the complaint mentioned by Davis, made it publicly. “The reason why he insisted that you accept his complaint, which he did do publicly,…was he felt it was your responsibility,” Donahue said, referencing the part of the Flint City Charter that states without an ombudsperson, the EAB also has an obligation for taking resident complaints.
“Complaints were always supposed to be kept confidential, we discussed that,” mayoral appointee Loyce Driskell said. “Things have gotten so out of hand.”
Mayoral appointee Art Evans said he thought it was not right for the EAB to take complaints before the board has a system in place to do so. “To receive a complaint at this junction…is inappropriate. We should stop this process of taking complaints,” Evans said.
“I don’t think we can investigate them, but we can still keep accepting them,” Second Ward appointee Joe King answered.
Plans moving forward
Loyce Driskell urged all members of the EAB to bring their ideas on the complaints process to their next meeting. “And I think we will work on putting together the bylaws, talk about processes,” Driskell said about their next meeting, adding, “My personal view on it is that I see everything coming through the ombudsman. We were put together, as I understand it, to hire an ombudsman…and that should be our number one priority.”
EVM Managing Editor Meghan Christian can be reached at email@example.com.