By Tom Travis
In the glistening lights of the new Capitol Theatre’s gleaming marquee, Flint residents filed into the city’s iconic performance venue Monday night for the annual mayor’s State of the City address.
As Mayor Karen Weaver laid it out to a supportive, celebratory crowd, the state of the city is improving and full of hopeful developments in water quality, pipeline replacement, public health, job growth, and opportunities for the city’s children.
Capitol personnel reported an attendance of 400 in the 1600-seat amphitheater. With just two weeks until an election pitting Weaver against challenger Sheldon Neeley, the event had the flavor of a campaign rally, the crowd cheering repeatedly during the mayor’s report, sometimes specifically chanting “Weaver, Weaver, Weaver!”
Some residents were decked out in elegant gowns and tailored suits while others came in jeans, tennis shoes, or work clothes. A diverse crowd of Flint residents mingled together chatting, hugging, laughing and shaking hands as the auditorium slowly filled up.
Before the mayor spoke, Herb Winfrey, president of the Flint City Council, called the city council meeting to order. The Flint Charter states that the mayor once a year will present a State of the City report to the council and city residents. The State of the Ctiy address is an official city council meeting. Boy Scout Troop #31 presented the U.S. flag and the Michigan flag. The troop stood at attention with their scout masters leading them.
Then City Clerk Inez Brown took attendance. Councilpersons present were Eric Mays (1st Ward), Maurice Davis (2nd Ward), Santino Guerra (3rd Ward), Jerri Winfrey-Carter (5th Ward), Herb Winfrery (6th Ward) and Monica Galloway (7th Ward). Kate Fields (4th Ward), Allan Griggs (8th Ward) and Eva Worthing (9th Ward) were not present.
Rev Dan Scheid, rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, offered an invocation. From the Book of Common Prayer, Scheid offered a prayer asking for wisdom, grace, courage, and insight into the safeguarding of human rights.
The Black Eyed Peas song “I Got A Feeling” played over the speakers as Weaver was introduced and walked onto the stage. The crowd stood to their feet applauding and cheering as the she waved and greeted the crowd.
The mayor’s speech was a litany of positive points beginning with restoration efforts following water pipeline replacement since 2016. She specifically pointed out that Kearsley Street and the north end of Dupont Street are now completed and that next year the south end of Dupont, which she called “one of our main streets,” along with Court Street and Atherton Street will be restored.
Water levels improved, filters still recommended
She announced, “For the third consecutive year in a row our water testing levels for lead have improved. According to data that was released earlier this month, the city’s 90th percentile lead levels for the first half of 2019 were at six parts per billion.”
Weaver said the city continues to work closely with the science, medical and public health communities to assure safe water.
“I know, I know I sound like a broken record but I say it time again and again. Every known tainted water line will have to be replaced. And the medical and science community will have to clear the water before I tell the residents to drink from their tap without a filter.
“Because Flint lives do matter,” she declared. “We will not be rushed through a crisis that we did not cause just because it is politically expedient.”
The screen behind her flashed the phrase FLINT LIVES MATTER as the crowd cheered.
New water meters coming; affordable water proposal broached
Weaver announced that beginning in November new water meters will be installed. There will be a new website for these new meters for residents to use to report and monitor water usage. “There will no longer be any need for residents to estimate water usage” she said.
Mayor Weaver stated, “We are pleased to announce through our water affordability strategies we’ve been able to strengthen our partnership with the Mott Foundation.” The crowd cheered. “They’ve been right there by our side.”
“We want to begin an assessment to determine if an income-based water structure is doable in the city of Flint. This is what the residents have asked for. We will see if Flint can be the first in Michigan to make water more affordable for residents struggling to pay their water bills.”
Public health department funding jumps, staff added
Weaver announced the city’s Public Health department has received a $2.3 million grant from the U.S. Conference of Mayors and some HUD money to create jobs, providing careers and skills on lead abatement that will help make Flint lead free. Weaver said the city will partner with the M.A.D.E. institute of Flint (http://madeinstitute.org) for providing the training in these jobs careers and skills.
Mayor Weaver discussed the staff capacity with the city’s public health department.
She said the city’s public health department has gone from 4 to 14 full time employees and added 10 seasonal youth workers. The budget for the city’s public health department has gone from $300,000 to $2.3 million annually. “And that’s a big deal,” Weaver said.
“We are working hand in hand with the Genesee County Health Department for public health to be protected” she said, adding that the County Board of Health has added the city’s chief public health advisor, Pamela Pugh, as a member. Weaver emphasized, “We have a seat at that table now and we needed that.”
She noted and thanked the Elon Musk Foundation for a $500,000 donation for a new ultraviolet disinfection system in drinking fountains in all Flint Community schools.
Mindfulness, Crim collaborations detailed
Weaver announced a partnership with The Crim Foundation and the Mindfulness Project to offer programs in Flint increasing health, wellness and fitness. “Programs that will bring healing to the trauma of the crisis that Flint has gone through and the mental uncertainty and anxiety that being poisoned has done to Flint residents.”
“One of the things we’re most proud and that residents who are raising children are so happy about is that we’ve ramped up our community resiliency efforts through recreational activities,” she said, mentioning Sean Croudy, director of community recreation.
Improvements for vets, parks, playgrounds, walking paths
Weaver complimented Suzanne Wilcox in leading the city’s Planning and Development Department and announced that with partnerships with Habitat Humanity $250,000 has been invested in two properties–1214 W. University, a mixed use duplex; and 603 W. Court St.– both completed and moving towards occupancy.
Weaver stated Habitat for Humanity will partner with Traverse Place to house formerly homeless veterans. She stated, “Since Sept 2018 over $750,000 have been invested in Flint parks, seven new playgrounds, eight new baseketball courts, and two new walking paths.”
Job development and increased employment
Weaver said the city has added jobs and has focused on employment. The city of Flint uses a database to monitor 50 companies for employment retention. She specifically mentioned: 50 new jobs added at Flint Packaging; a $150 million General Motors expansion including a 1000 new General Motor jobs; 400 jobs added by Lear between February and June this year with plans to expand to 600 jobs in the near future. She said Android has hired 200 and are expected to hire 150 more. MTA added 37 new jobs including a new business, Happy’s Pizza, located in MTA station.
She further stated two new prospective employers are expected to bring 2500 more jobs to the city.
What she didn’t mention: crime, lawsuit
While many things were discussed by the Mayor, there were some omissions.
There was no mention of a recently announced lawsuit from 17 employees against the Flint Police Department alleging sexual harrassment and discrimination in job promotion. The city did issue a response Monday but Weaver did not mention it in the speech.
Also, she did not mention any crime statistics or note the community’s concern over the reported rise in violent crime in Flint. According to an MLive article on Jan. 29, based on FBI crime statistics, “Violent crime was up nearly 23 percent in Flint last year..” The Mayor did not comment on a decrease or increase in this statistic or on how the police department is responding.
A “come-back story like no other”
Mayor Weaver wrapped up her State of the City speech by reminding the audience that when she took office she promised that “we’d have a come-back story like no other..”
She said, “I have been committed to keeping that promise, so as you see, Flint, we’ve made a lot of progress and we’ve made it together.
“Next time someone comes up to you trying to tell you what we don’t have in Bedrock and talking bad on Flint, you tell them don’t be down on what you’re not up on.
The crowd hooted and hollered standing on their feet chanting, “Weaver, Weaver, Weaver…”
Weaver ended by saying, “A common thread in what I’ve said tonight has been collaboration. As we move from crisis to recovery we are stronger together. We will continue our roar even louder and prouder and stronger, louder and bigger and bolder and remind them all, from near and far, what it means to be a Flint proud, Flint strong Flintstone.”
Stevie Wonder’s song “Higher Ground” blared as the Mayor left the stage and the crowd stood to their feet cheering.
Reactions from others
Following the speech Tim Herman, CEO of the Flint and Genesee Chamber of Commerce, stated that he thought it was a “great speech” and was “very positive.”
Second Ward Councilperson Maurice Davis said he thought Weaver’s speech was “off the charts.”
“I believe she told about the road we’re on going from crisis to recovery,” Davis stated. “And it was great to have such an enthusiastic crowd.”
Pastor Chris Martin of The Cathedral of Faith said, “Mayor Weaver is exactly what we’ve needed for this city. The partnerships she’s created go far beyond the city of Flint. She is the first mayor I know of that has unilateral support from pastors across the city. Mayor Weaver has developed housing progress in all four quadrants of the city.”
Banner photo of the Capitol Theatre marquee by Paul Rozycki.
EVM Staff Writer Tom Travis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.