By Meghan Christian
The second month of 2019 brought yet more conflict and distrust to the Flint City Council (FCC) members and residents who attended the month’s three regular meetings.
Regardless of the conflicts, however, the council continued dialogue on the state of the pipe replacement program and made some progress with the Ethics and Accountability Board (EAB) and toward establishing an Office of the Ombudsperson.
Civility/Behavior on Council
The issues between various members of the council have continued from January revolving around First Ward Councilperson Eric Mays and a few of the female members: Fourth Ward Councilperson Kate Fields, Seventh Ward Councilperson Monica Galloway, and Ninth Ward Councilperson Eva Worthing.
The continued bickering has not gone unnoticed by residents.
“I have seen…Councilman Mays attack these women in a wrong way,” resident Quincy Murphy said, referring to Fields, Galloway, and Worthing.
According to resident Chester Colburn, the council’s in-fighting could be doing more harm to residents than council members might think or recognize. “What y’all showing the people right now: you don’t care bout ‘em,” Colburn said. “The people are crying out for your mercy and y’all sitting them down like they’re nobody,” he added.
Resident Wilbert Jeret felt so strongly, he addressed the council at not one, but two of the three February regular meetings and called for a no-confidence vote to be added to the ballot in the next election. “After watching the last city council meeting, the last financial meeting on YouTube (Jan. 23 committee meeting), I’ve come to the conclusion that there must be a movement began to put a no-confidence vote of this city council on the ballot this election season,” he said during the public speaking portion of the Feb. 4 regular FCC meeting.
Lesia Williams, a First Ward resident who protested Mays’ treatment of the women on council during the Jan. 23 council committee meeting, addressed the council again on the civility issue at the Feb. 4 meeting. “It’s hard when we look out here and we know why these seats aren’t filled,” Williams said.
“This is not a black or white thing and our community will not be divided…We have an election coming up, we have pipes to be replaced, we have things that need to be done in our community and at this time, I just want the councilwomen of all color to know that no abuse will be tolerated,” Williams said.
“You may not see me, but I see you,” Tony Palladeno said to FCC, discussing the behaviors he has witnessed from council. “And I can’t come down no more – I’m ready to cry right now – I’m exploding,” he added.
Still some members tried to urge their colleagues toward a spirit of collaboration. “As long as we can work together…we can move forward,” Third Ward Councilperson Santino Guerra said. “We have a long way to go, but we can definitely do it,” he added.
“Your opinions, your concerns, and all of your issues are being heard from me,” Fifth Ward Councilperson Jerri Winfrey-Carter said to residents before addressing her colleagues. “It’s reciprocal…all of us need to be respectful,” she reminded them.
As January ended, FCC struggled to decide 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 EVMlast 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 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.
“Why would we pay them $10 million…where (FCC) gave (General) McDaniels $120,000,” Arthur Woodson said while addressing FCC at the Feb. 4 meeting. “It doesn’t make sense.”
At the first regular council meeting of the month Feb. 4, Mays moved to discuss granting an emergency purchasing ordinance allowing AECOM to continue working on pipe replacement. “The emergency purchasing ordinance is one of the most important things we could do,” Mays said. “This city is in the middle of a water emergency – the mayor, myself, and others have said until all the pipes is out of the ground, we’re in an emergency,” he added.
“We’re in a crisis and this body continually makes bad mistakes and moves that’re delaying the health of the public,” Second Ward Councilperson Maurice Davis said. “We really need to put this back on the forefront… We can’t afford to keep doing the same thing over and over,” he added.
Ultimately, Galloway made a substitute motion to discuss the matter during a legislative committee meeting, which passed by a vote of eight in favor and opposed by Mays.
The pipe replacement and manager of the program were not the only water-related issues on the minds of Flint residents in February. Long wait times in water lines; accessibility, particularly for seniors; and the contents of the water were among the issues presented to the council. “We need our water PODs (points of distribution) back open,” resident Shirley Taylor said. “They are more accessible for the people,” Taylor said, adding that even if four of the previous eight PODs would reopen, it would make things easier on the residents.
Woodson also raised concerns about City Hall’s narratives regarding the water. “The narrative of making it sound like once we get the lead service lines out, the emergency is over – no,” Woodson said. “We need to stop that narrative. We had more than just lead in our water,” he added.
Ethics and Accountability Board and ombudsperson
While the EAB has yet to hire an ombudsperson, FCC discussed the board in length during a public hearing on the job description and qualifications of the ombudsperson at their regular meeting on Feb. 25.
As described in previous EVM 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.
One main concern raised by the FCC regarding the job description for the ombudsperson was the requirement that applicants have a Bachelor’s degree instead of allowing applicants to have a degree or equivalent experience.
“I’m not going to be hasty…I want to do this ombudsman thing right,” Mays said. “I don’t want to handicap them,” he added. “If they find a diamond in the rough, they can hire them.”
“Degrees shouldn’t eliminate anyone from this position,” Guerra said. “Changes need to be done,” he added, referring to the job description.
Loyce Driskell, the newly-appointed chair of the EAB, addressed this concern by reminding council they are searching for the top applicants. “We will certainly be looking at the first pass through to get the creme de la creme, and then we may look further to those who don’t have that experience,” she said.
Some members of the FCC were in support of the job description and qualifications as drafted from the EAB. “I absolutely understand the concerns raised about degree or no degree, but in this case it does not apply,” Worthing said. “The Ethics Board has already went through this process quite extensively and this what they feel comfortable with and I will agree with them,” she added.
Ultimately, the job description for the ombudsperson was sent back to the legislative committee for further discussion and amendment by a vote of six in favor and three opposed. Those in favor were Mays, Davis, Guerra, Winfrey-Carter, Sixth Ward Councilperson and Council President Herbert Winfrey, and Galloway. Those opposed were Fields, Eighth Ward Councilperson Allan Griggs, and Worthing.
EVM Managing Editor and City Council beat reporter Meghan Christian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.