By Tom Travis
The air conditioning was running full blast but tempers were hot and emotions on edge as the Flint City Council met as the Finance Committee of the Whole Wednesday night.
In a context in which council squabbling among themselves and with city officials has been an every-week occurrence, subjects of the turmoil this time included alleged inappropriate social media behavior by Eighth Ward Councilperson Allen Griggs, confrontations between the council and the city’s director of public works and the acting finance director, and a pitch from a city contractor to be included in pending pipeline restoration work.
The meeting lasted five hours. Not present was Ninth Ward Councilperson Eva Worthing, and City Council President Herb Winfrey left after one hour.
The bi-weekly committee meetings are designed for information gathering and formulating recommendations, not necessarily decision-making, so the council often meets in a side chamber committee room.
Rather than meet there Wednesday night, however, Seventh Ward Councilperson Monica Galloway, Finance Committee chair, moved the meeting to the large Council Chamber due to the number of guests invited to speak to the committee.
The agenda for the meeting was 69 pages long; a list of eight “special orders,” referring usually to items postponed from previous meetings, took up most of the council members’ attention.
As it turned out, there were five guests present: two city administration officials, one of whom had been subpoenaed to be there, and three outside guests.
The first guest to speak was invited to the podium after an hour and fifteen minutes of arguing among council members over procedures and rules.
Griggs attacked, does not reply
Mixed in with the council’s rule discussions, a member of the public from the Mott Park neighborhood, Susan Green, loudly aired a series of complaints about Eighth Ward Councilperson Allan Griggs, using her allotted public speaking time of two minutes. Green said she was upset about a Facebook interaction she had with Griggs Sunday, Aug. 4.
Green alleged Griggs sexually harassed her in that discussion and called her daughter “retarded.” Green pointed her finger at him, accusing him of voter intimidation and repeating claims of sexual harassment. Green demanded Griggs’ resignation immediately. She attempted to get Griggs to respond, but he did not.
Chairperson Galloway intervened, saying, “This is not a back and forth discussion.” Activist Art Woodson rose next to calmly address Griggs about the Facebook post and accused Griggs of being drunk while making his posts. First Ward Councilman Eric Mays noted he had read Griggs’ Facebook posts also and described them as “terrible.”
Galloway and finally Council President Herbert Winfrey chimed in, urging that care and caution must be exercised when using social media. Fifth Ward Councilperson Jerri Winfrey-Carter pleaded with her colleagues to stay off Facebook and stop attacking people on social media.
While Griggs declined to comment at the meeting, he later voiced regret on his Facebook page, apologizing to both Woodson and Green by name. In part he wrote, “To all that witnessed my garbage mouth and temperament, I sincerely apologize.”
Rowe Engineering reports addresses provided fewer than expected
Jeff Markstrom, project and program director of Rowe Engineering, the company that since March has been overseeing the “FastStart” service line exploration and water line replacement, now in Phase Six, offered updates.
He first pointed out Rowe Engineering has nothing to do with post-pipeline replacement restoration of curbs, yards, driveways–the subjects of much recent council debate after a series of bids and rebids for the restoration work resulted last month in a partial contract award to Goyette Engineering. The council declined to award the contract for the entire restoration work to Goyette after city officials recommended that the work be split between Goyette and second-place bidder W.T. Stevens. The council ultimately failed to award any work to Stevens–leaving part of the Phase Six restoration work unassigned and its fate uncertain.
Markstrom said Rowe has access to a list of addresses provided by the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC), one of the entities behind a class action settlement that resulted in $97 million being committed to the pipeline replacement. Markham said Rowe works along side contractors and logs all their findings into a database called CityWorks.
Markstrom explained they had 3,899 properties initially given to them but the contract was originally extablished with the understanding that there would be between 4000 and 8000 properties for their contract. The Rowe contract is for $2.1 million.
Bincsik reads letter attempting to set terms of interactions with council
Department of Public Works Director Robert Bincsik then came forward with an attorney hired by the City, Alan Crawford. City Clerk Inez Brown swore Bincsik in because he had been subpoenaed by the council to appear, after declining to answer many questions at the last regular council meeting, particularly about the pipeline restoration bid process.
Again Wednesday night under oath, Bincsik was asked questions about the phases of the recent bid and rebid process–primarily why the restoration contracts were separated out from the pipeline replacement and why the contracts were rebid.
Bincsik said the city had brought two proposals forward originally when LA contracting firm AECOM was hired, and the contract without restoration was the one selected. Rowe, a Flint-based firm, took over from AECOM in March.
Asked by both Fourth Ward Councilperson Kate Fields and Galloway for clarification, Bincsik confirmed that the State of Michigan did not demand a rebid, but that it was a decision made within City Hall.
Bincsik brought a letter that he requested to read out loud to the council. He said his letter had been sent to Council President Winfrey June 26. Councilpersons Mays and Fields voiced concern that they had never seen the letter.
Bincsik’s letter stated, in part:
“In recent times the behavior of certain council members towards department heads has reached a level of being unacceptable, resulting in the failure to move business forward. The current level of treatment towards me or other department heads will no longer be tolerated. Going forward I will submit my resolutions to city council staff and not be present at committee or council meetings. In the event city council should have questions regarding DPW resolutions, they should email the city administrator and the city administrator will forward the questions to me and I will respond as soon as possible.”
Immediately Councilperson Mays replied, “I never saw that letter but I got news for you, you won’t dictate when and where you show up as far as I’m concerned…If you refuse to come and answer questions concerning your department, I’ll ask that you be subpoenaed again.”
Bincsik did not respond, and Bincsik’s attorney, Crawford, sat silently during the testimony.
Finance Director abruptly ends testimony
Next Tamar Lewis, City of Flint acting deputy finance director, came forward to discuss quarterly budget amendments and other reports as required by the new Flint City Charter. Soon into the questioning, after several back and forths, Fields said, “I don’t believe you have the actual qualification that is required by the charter to be CFO.”
“Then why do you keep asking me for reports?” Lewis responded.
Fields said, “Ms. Lewis please don’t get snippy with me,” upon which Lewis threw up her arms in frustration and stormed away from the witness table to return to her seat in the audience.
City auditors introduce themselves
Next to the witness table were Nate Balderman and Doug Deeter, both principal certified public accountants from Rehmann Robson www.rehmann.com an accounting firm hired to conduct an financial audit for the city.
Various councilpersons questioned Balderman and Deeter about items they were looking for in the upcoming audit. Councilperson Fields questioned specifically about procurement cards, a type of credit card service used by government agencies and RFPs (Request For Proposal) documents used in the bidding process.
Contractor says she’s available
Martha Brown, representing her company, Martha Brown Custom Builders LLC, was the final speaker of the evening. She said her company had completed 907 both soft and hard restorations in 11 weeks, carrying out restoration work from a previous contract.
Brown said she had been one of the original higher bidders in the restoration bid process. She said she was present to inform the council that her company is ready and available to do more restoration work. Throughout the evening council members brought up the fact that it is still not clear who will complete the restoration work on the rescinded resolution that W.T. Stevens lost last month.
Many items in this committee meeting were moved to the agenda for the regular City Council meeting scheduled for Monday, Aug.12.
EVM Staff Writer Tom Travis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
EVM Editor Jan Worth-Nelson contributed to this report. She can be reached at email@example.com.