By Luther Houle
Flint Neighborhoods United (FNU) members were surprised at the end of this month’s meeting by a chance to meet “Scandal” actress Kerry Washington as she visited Flint in a “Get Out The Vote” effort.
Washington arrived at the Flint Public Library with Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson at about 11 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 2 while FNU members were just wrapping up for the day.
About 45 of Flint’s neighborhood organizers, city officials, and active citizens were there.
Benson said she came to the meeting to clear up misconceptions regarding voters’ rights and encourage everyone to get out and vote.
“Our state now has some of the most welcoming laws and rights for voting in the country” she said, adding that Michigan residents can now register to vote up to and on election day. [Citizens can register and then VOTE until 8 p.m. TODAY, Nov. 5 at the City Clerk’s office at City Hall, 1101 Saginaw St.]
“One of the things my office is doing is connecting with citizens throughout the state who aren’t engaged,” Benson said. The state of Michigan has about 4800 voting precincts, and she explained that she’s been trying to connect with 100 precincts with the lowest voter turnout. She says 20 of those precincts are in Flint.
Benson said she hasn’t found that people are disinterested in voting. She said nearly everyone she’s talked wanted to vote, but either believe that they can’t, or they don’t know how.
Benson listed reasons people believe they can’t vote. “It’s ‘I have a criminal history. I have a criminal record. I just got out of prison. I’ve been arrested and awaiting sentence. I’m on probation or on parole.’” According to Benson, however, all these people can vote. “You can vote even if you’ve been arrested and are in jail awaiting trial”. She said that the only citizens who can’t vote are those in prison serving out a sentence.
After speaking for a few minutes, she invited Washington. a Golden Globe-winning actress who plays the character Olivia Pope on ABC’s “Scandal” series.
“People will come to me and ask me to come to their community every few years to support specific candidates,” Washington said. “We sometimes put a lot of focus into the individuals who we believe will come in and change the situation, save the day, and be the heroes of our communities. But the real heroes are you guys. The residents doing the day-to-day work, living in the community.”
“I’m mostly here to listen, to celebrate you, to cheer you on, and let you know that your power is inspiring to this entire nation,” Washington said.
In addition to the celebrity drive-by, other items highlighted in the meeting were announcement of a $75,000 award to the city from the Bloomberg Foundation, a reminder to have water lines checked and replaced, and news on an upcoming toy drive.
Flint wins $75,000 Engaged Cities Award for Property Portal
Michael Lawlor, urban designer for the City of Flint, announced a $75,000 Cities of Service “Engaged Cities Award” through CityLab DC from the Bloomberg Foundation. Flint was one of three cities nationally to be honored in the category “Effectively Collaborating with Citizens to Solve Problems.” The other two were San Francisco and Plymouth, United Kingdom.
Focus of the award was the Flint Property Portal, an online tool and website which can be used to find out more about the properties in the city, including the name of the owner, occupancy status, zoning information, and more. It can be found at flintpropertyportal.com
As described in a press release from the city’s Public Information Officer Candice Mushatt, the award “recognizes cutting-edge techniques to engage residents to solve problems. Flint was recognized for demonstrating leadership in citizen engagement, working with their residents to develop and implement bold, new strategies that address long-standing challenges.”
Lawlor thanked members of the community who contributed to the neighborhood inventories that helped create the Flint Property Portal. He said that the award money will go towards updating and improving the portal.
As Mushatt described it, “In response to significant property blight caused by a massive decline in population, the city created the Flint Property Portal, which allows residents to easily report information on properties.
“Data collected through the portal enabled the city to receive a $60 million blight elimination grant through the U.S. Treasury Hardest Hit Fund. The grant funds have been used to demolish more than 4,000 blighted structures in Flint.
“The city planted low-growing clover in the cleared lots, which significantly diminishes maintenance needs and costs. Community members have since submitted more than 120,000 property messages through the portal, including self-reporting maintenance for 690 vacant lots. The portal is free and accessible via both a website and a mobile app.”
Homes Still Need Service Line Replacement
Jane Richardson said 3,000 homes in the city still have not had their service lines tested or replaced because the owners still haven’t made contact with the city.
According to Richardson, each of those homes are eligible to have their service lines tested and replaced at no cost. Richardson referenced an article in FNU’s monthly newspaper, written by FNU treasurer Chris Frye, emphasizing that residents who still need to opt-in to service line repair need to go to www.cityofflint.com/fast-start-online-opt-in-form to complete and send in a form.
Richardson explained that those who don’t have their service lines replaced for free now may be responsible to pay for replacement later. If you’re going to sell your house in the future, she said, “You might be responsible for $3000 in investment, or your buyer might have to change those lines. At this point it’s being paid for by the state, so let’s do it!”
Toy Drive coming Dec. 6
Steve Kramer of the State Police Flint Post announced the upcoming toy drive held by the Michigan State Police and Salvation Army coming up Dec. 6.
“Everything that’s donated stays local,” Kramer said. that they’re accepting new unwrapped toys, or any kind of monetary donation, whether that be cash or gift cards. He says there’s no price range on the toy, and “we’re not gonna turn anything away.”
EVM Staff Writer Luther Houle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.