By Meghan Christian
As 2018 ended, some members of Flint City Council (FCC) expressed hope that the new year would bring a new attitude to the city’s governing body and that they would be able to leave many of their divisions behind. But it became clear by the conclusion of the first month of 2019 that this would be a difficult goal.
Mays removed as finance chair
Perhaps the most dramatic action of the council in January was the removal of First Ward Councilperson Eric Mays from his position as finance chair, by a vote of six to one, during the Jan. 23 finance committee meeting.
The removal, based on a motion by Council President Herb Winfrey, was the culmination of months of discord between Mays and, in particular, three female council members: Fourth Ward Councilperson Kate Fields, Seventh Ward Councilperson Monica Galloway, and Ninth Ward Councilperson Eva Worthing, as well as FCC’s support staff.
Those in favor of his removal were Third Ward Councilperson Santino Guerra, Fields, Sixth Ward Councilperson and FCC President Winfrey, Galloway, Eighth Ward Councilperson Allan Griggs, and Worthing. Opposed was Second Ward Councilperson Maurice Davis. Absent at the time of the vote were Fifth Ward Councilperson Jerri Winfrey-Carter and Mays himself.
Mays wasn’t there for the vote because he had been removed from the meeting by Flint Police Officer William Metcalf 20 minutes earlier, after Galloway, the chair of the meeting, declared him out of order.
Continued fighting between members of FCC, staff
The Mays controversy seemed to come to a head with explosive debate in the regular council meeting of Jan. 14, when discussion of a special order added an extra hour to the meeting time because of arguing among council members and what some believed were abuses of “Point of Order” and “Point of Information” — both outlined in Robert’s Rules of Order – the parliamentary procedure manual used by FCC and many other organizations throughout the United States.
“You are abusing your rights as a council person,” Winfrey said to Mays. “Your problem is you want people to listen to you and to respect you, but you don’t listen to everybody -” he added, before Mays cut him off.
Fellow members of the FCC were not the only ones under fire from Mays; council staff support were targets of his outbursts as well. During the regular FCC meeting Jan. 14, Mays recounted part of the Jan. 9 finance committee meeting where, according to Mays, the council’s staff informed them they could not make a motion on a pending resolution regarding AECOM, the city’s water pipe replacement management company.
“When our staff starts telling us when we can make motions and can’t and then I research it – and I want this council to know – our staff was wrong,” Mays said. “Do what we ask and stay out of our debates if you don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said.
“I know what I am talking about, Mr. Mays,” City Clerk Inez Brown retorted, in defense of herself and her staff, “and the other thing that I indicated to you during the course of the (Jan. 9) meeting… Ms. Winfrey-Carter made a motion, but you wanted to make the motion — you would not allow her to do it. Now, had you allowed her, it might have gone through,” Brown added.
“She ain’t a council person, we are in a debate… She’s out of order,” Mays said in response to Brown. “You can’t call on her as a member of this body,” he protested to Board President Winfrey.
“Usually the city clerk has the ability to chime in because what has been discussed here is based on believing that what was shared from that position was incorrect,” Galloway said. “And I just want to know how far and how many people have to be subject to Councilman Mays’s anger and outbursts,” she added.
FCC Executive Assistant and Office Manager Davina Donahue felt so strongly on the current state of the council that she filled out a public speaking slip and spoke before FCC, something she stated she had never done in a regular FCC meeting since being on staff.
“There’s something on my heart that I have to talk about… Things keep coming up in meetings on the record, so I want to have time to respond,” she said.
“I’ve been with council for 12 years now and I’ve never seen anything like the fighting because you don’t agree,” Donahue said. “I don’t profess to know everything, but working for the clerk, the keeper of the records of the council, if I think that you’re doing something you haven’t done before – I am going to speak up. The clerk deserves more respect than that,” she concluded.
In formally moving to remove Mays as chair, Winfrey recounted a conversation he had with Mays when he told Mays he did not think he was a fit match for the position of chair. “I said, ‘Councilman Mays, with the skills that you have, if you would just change those attitudes, you could serve as finance chair – I would like to have you serve as finance chair, but you have to apply those rules across the board,’” Winfrey said. “How do you call folks in order when you are out of order?”
Clashes between Mays and members of the community
Residents in the city also spoke out against treatment they felt was not right from the First Ward councilperson. At the Jan. 14 FCC meeting, former member of the Charter Review Commission and city activist Quincy Murphy described how Mays had treated him during the Jan. 9 finance committee meeting.
Murphy said he had filed a damage claim for being unlawfully removed from a finance committee meeting, and asked the council to censure Mays. He further requested that the council have a parliamentarian at all committee meetings and, finally, to remove Mays as chairman of the finance committee.
During the Jan. 23 committee meeting, several residents from the First Ward turned out in protest against Mays, their councilperson. One said, “We will not be silenced. We are the First Ward residents. We are tired of the verbal abuse. We’re tired of the abuse of women on our council, and we say no to verbal abuse from anycouncil member.”
Meanwhile in January, another struggle came in the form of deciding whether to grant a second change order to the city’s contract with the LA-based global engineering firm, AECOM, that would give them an additional $4,802,482 according to the resolution listed in the Jan. 9 finance committee agenda. [AECOM is the company’s official name; the letters of the acronym stand for Architecture, Engineering, Consulting, Operations and Maintenance]. As reported in EVMin April, AECOM took over water service line replacement project from General Michael McDaniel in the Fall of 2017. The firm received a 13-month, $5 million contract from the city which began Dec. 1, 2017.
Both times this resolution for the second change order faced FCC – once in committee on Jan. 9 and then again as a reconsideration moved by Mays during the Jan. 14 regular council meeting – it failed with a tie vote of four in favor and four opposed. Some members of FCC said they would not support giving AECOM more funds when they felt the company had not fulfilled the terms of their first contract.
Others said they believed not granting AECOM the $4.8 million would not only be a detriment to the public health of residents, but was just a way for certain council members to go against Mayor Karen Weaver and her administration.
“The Mayor already did her part. She brought in the best company, the best safety with MDEQ (Michigan Department of Environmental Quality) and all the rest of them,” Maurice Davis said. “We can’t keep track of every dime and every penny that’s dealing with AECOM… We don’t want to reset this clock with some trying to save a dollar…trying to save a penny digging holes. That’s flat out stupid,” he added.
“What I see some of the council people are doing could turn (pipe replacement) to a trickle, could leave lead pipes in the ground an extra day, an extra week, an extra month,” Mays said.
“I wish my colleagues would really put past their personal opinions and go back to why you’re actually sitting in these chairs,” Davis said. “We don’t want to reset the clock on this.”
EVM Managing Editor Meghan Christian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.