By Meghan Christian
The month of March continued Flint City Council chaos—all delaying or complicating major matters of city business and exasperating some of the public in attendance, one of whom commented the city needed an ombudsman to oversee matters more than the city council.
First, even though a 5-4 majority of council members voted to reject proposed raises for Mayor Karen Weaver and themselves, a rule requiring a two-thirds vote to reject proposals from the city’s Compensation Board means that it appears the raises will go through.
Second, the council’s two cliques went to war with each other, making motions and counter motions to remove each other – not just from the meetings but from their elected positions altogether. None of those motions passed.
In addition, the council in March received and commented on the resignation of the City of Flint’s Chief Financial Officer Hughey Newsome, who blasted the council for perpetrating “lies and innuendoes” and slandering him.
And the city’s ongoing water pipe replacement program took another turn, with ROWE Professional Services taking over engineering management, replacing AECOM, a national civil engineering firm that had been in place since December, 2017.
Pay increases to mayor and council go through despite majority of “no” votes
A central hot topic in March revolved around proposed raises for the mayor and for FCC. The city’s Compensation Board recommended that the mayor receive a 37 percent increase to her current salary, increasing it from $91,801 to $125,000 a year, and members of FCC, who currently receive $19,000 each, would get an additional $1,000.
While some members of FCC said the raise for the mayor would be a restoration of what she normally would have gotten had the city not been in emergency management, others thought it was not a good time to consider raises no matter what.
“I am totally in agreeance of the mayor getting a raise – she’s been working hard, okay?” Fifth Ward Councilperson Winfrey-Carter said. “She was the one that called this city into a state of emergency, okay? She’s been working hard since the beginning of the water crisis…and she is due a raise.
“I do believe the mayor does deserve a raise. I’m not going to vote to not give her a raise,” Council President Herb Winfrey said.
“I personally do not think any elected official at a local, state, or national level should receive any pay increases, especially during the middle of their terms,” Third Ward Councilperson Santino Guerra said.
“This is not responsible,” Ninth Ward Councilperson Eva Worthing said. “This is not political…but 37 percent increase for the mayor in a time where we are still going through the water crisis, that we are still recovering, and we are going to go in the negative, is just not appropriate.”
Ultimately, Seventh Ward Councilperson Monica Galloway moved to reject the Compensation Board’s recommendation to give the mayor and FCC members raises. However, the motion failed by a vote of 5-4. While technically the majority of the council were in favor of denying the raises, the city charter requires a vote of two-thirds, or six, in favor to pass. Those in favor of denying the raises were Guerra, Fourth Ward Councilperson Kate Fields, Galloway, Eighth Ward Councilperson Allen Griggs, and Worthing. Those opposed to denying the raises were First Ward Councilperson Eric Mays, Second Ward Councilperson Maurice Davis, Winfrey-Carter, and Winfrey.
CFO quits, blasts council
“I regret to inform you that I have tendered my letter of resignation as the City of Flint’s Chief Financial Officer to Mayor Weaver effective March 29, 2019,” Hughey Newsome, former chief financial officer for the City of Flint, stated in a letter addressed to the council.
Newsome, former senior manager for MorganFranklin Consulting in Washington D.C., was first appointed to the chief financial officer position in November, 2017 by a unanimous vote by the council. However after 17 months of service to the City of Flint, Newsome is resigning after negative treatment he has received from members of FCC, according to his letter of resignation. “I have been accused of lying, cheating and mismanaging funds. These lies and innuendos were passed on to the media in an attempt to slander my professional name.”
According to Newsome, FCC will have some changes to make in upcoming weeks and that the City can no longer operate under a “politics as usual” mentality.
“Flint has been through too much, such as multiple emergency managers, rescinding of public services, receivership, and the water crisis. Yes, politics as usual is the order of the day in many cities, counties, states and even federal government. It is expected, but I propose to you that due to Flint’s situation, you cannot practice politics as usual. Flint, instead, needs leadership and needs it now,” he wrote.
Concluding his letter, Newsome appealed to FCC not out of obligation, but out of what he said was his new-found love for Flint. “The purpose of this letter is not to belittle or attack, but instead, to persuade. I want to persuade this council to show true leadership and rise above the politics as usual to bring the Flint community to the next level,” he said.
“While I will move onto other responsibilities, a piece of my heart will always reside in the center of Genesee County in a place called Flint, Michigan. I just want to make sure that piece of my heart does not become broken,” Newsome wrote.
Newsome’s full letter is available here.
“Mr. Newsome, I really hate to see you go,” Council President Herbert Winfrey said to Newsome at the March 25 meeting. “I think you have really served us well. I didn’t have any reservations when I first looked at your resume and then heard you speak, and I just wish you well. I wish it was under other circumstances, but I am really going to miss you. You have set a high mark and we’ll try to treat the other financial person fair. I appreciate you, sir.”
To help ease the transition from Newsome to whomever the next appointee will be, First Ward Councilperson Eric Mays moved to enter into a consulting contract with Newsome and/or Dawn Steele, the current city deputy finance director. The resolution passed unanimously 5-0. Fourth Ward Councilperson Kate Fields, Seventh Ward Councilperson Monica Galloway, Eighth Ward Councilperson Allan Griggs, and Ninth Ward Councilperson Eva Worthing were not present at the time of the vote.
ROWE takes over project management for pipe replacement
At the March 11 regular FCC meeting, ROWE Professional Services, an engineering consultant with offices in downtown Flint, was selected to replace AECOM as the project manager for the FAST Start pipe replacement program.
AECOM, a Los Angeles based civil engineering firm, had managed the pipeline replacement since December, 2017, but its contract renewal discussions with the city, originally for $6.1 million, fell apart after the council disagreed on proposed renewal provisions and voted down AECOM’s requests for more money.
The $2.1 million contract with ROWE was approved 5-3. Those in favor were Mays, Second Ward Councilperson Davis, Guerra, Winfrey, and Galloway. Those opposed were Fields, Winfrey-Carter, and Worthing. Griggs was not present at the time of the vote.
According to MLive, ROWE oversaw the beginning of the FAST Start program in 2016 before being replaced by retired National Guard General Michael McDaniel in 2017. AECOM came in that December.
While those in favor of ROWE as the new project manager came said they did not want to delay city business, those opposed were wary that they had not seen much of the contract, if any at all. “How can I vote on something without seeing the contract?” Worthing asked.
“I don’t want to delay the city business another second,” Davis said. “We need to get back on track with the FAST Start.”
Council members lob attacks and counter-attacks, try to oust each other
Ongoing conflicts among members of council appeared to come to a head during the March 25 regular FCC meeting when several council members attempted to move to remove others not only from the meeting, but also from their council seats based on their recent conduct.
“I move that we start forfeiture procedures on Ms. Fields, Mr. Griggs, and Ms. Worthing for violating the charter,” Mays moved, which was seconded by Second Ward Councilperson Maurice Davis.
According to Mays, Fields, Griggs, and Worthing violated the charter and the Open Meetings Act of 1976 by having a meeting between two or more councilpersons. The motion failed 3-6. Those in favor were Mays, Davis, and Jerri Winfrey-Carter. Those opposed were Guerra, Fields, Winfrey, Galloway, Griggs, and Worthing.
In response, Worthing moved to remove Mays based on, according to Worthing, his misconduct and felonies while in office.
“My immediate response to this will be to make a motion to remove Mr. Mays as he does have a felony after he was voted in. Also, given this, I will be making a motion to remove him due to his severe misconduct,” Worthing said.
Her motion was seconded by Griggs. The motion failed by a vote of one in favor, three opposed, and one abstention. In favor was Guerra, opposed were Winfrey-Carter, Winfrey, and Davis. Mays abstained from the vote as it pertained to him. Fields, Galloway, Griggs, and Worthing left shortly after and were not present at the time of the vote.
“I notice there’s only five colleagues sitting up here,” Maurice Davis said at that point. “We managed to move some resolutions in peace for the first time tonight, so that shows you sometimes the one you’re pointing the finger at, you might want to take the other and point it at yourself.” Davis seemed to be alluding to the continuing conflicts between Mays and several other members of council; mainly Fields, Galloway, Griggs, and Worthing.
“It’s obvious that they want to do a distraction or just blow smoke to pretend,” Davis said. “There’s cliques up here and that’s got to be broke up immediately.”
The council issues are not going unnoticed by members of the public. Seventh Ward resident Shirley Taylor addressed FCC at the March 25 meeting saying, “We need the office of the ombudsman more than the City Council.” Taylor also voiced her displeasure that some members of FCC had not remained until the public speaking portion of the meeting. “I’m sorry to see some of the people gone because I came to speak directly to them,” she said.
EVM Managing Editor Meghan Christian can be reached at email@example.com.