By Tom Travis and Luther Houle
A $75 fee for water shutoffs in Flint has been eliminated by unanimous vote of the Flint City Council.
After the vote on ending the fee, proposed by Councilperson Eva Worthing (9th Ward) the audience of about 50 applauded.
Worthing explained, “I’m a single mom… I have my parents, though, and they help me when I struggle. If I didn’t have them and I needed to pay $75 for a shut-off fee and another $75 for a turn-on fee, I wouldn’t have it. I don’t have $150 in my bank account.”
She continued, “We’ve got to find a way to pay for our water without hitting the poorest of the poor, especially when they’re down… Basically it’s a poor tax.”
In discussion before the decision, Rob Bincsik, director of the Department of Public Works, said last year there were 7,615 water shut offs–meaning a potential loss to the city of the $75 fee totaling $571,125.
Typically the fee has been charged along with an additional $75 to turn the water back on, meaning it costs $150 to get water flowing into a home again after a shutoff. The $75 turn-on fee is being retained for now, though council members expressed openness to ending that fee someday as well.
Tamar Lewis, the city’s chief financial officer, explained the reasoning behind the fee. “I don’t like the fee… however, there is a reason for the fee and it does cost the city money to shut people off.”
Worthing and Council Vice-president Eric Mays, who chaired Monday’s meeting, had previously worked together to pass another water bill proposal for residents trying to get their water turned back on. That change decreased the amount residents have to pay from 50 percent to 10 percent of the former balance to have their water turned back on.
“This is something very positive for our residents,” Mays said, to another round of applause.
Mays (1st Ward) chaired both the Special Affairs Committee and the council meeting. Newly elected council president Monica Galloway (7th Ward) was absent as was former Council President Herb Winfrey (6th Ward).
Clyde Edwards approved as city administrator
During the nearly five-hour meeting the council also approved Clyde Edwards as Mayor Sheldon Neeley’s pick for city administrator on a six-one vote, with Mays dissenting. The council also appointed two new members to the Ethics and Accountability Board (EAB).
According to the new charter city council is required to approve the mayor’s pick for city administrator, a position formerly held by Karen Weaver-appointed Steve Branch.
Mays moved to postpone the motion to approve Edwards’ appointment, explaining he would rather wait until the whole council, including Galloway and Winfrey, were present. That motion lost six to one.
When Mays made the motion to postpone there were rumbles and murmurs of disapproval from the audience. Mays said, “I’ll remind the audience that Sgt. [Tyrone] Booth is here to keep the peace.”
[After the meeting, Booth told East Village Magazine (EVM) Mayor Neeley has requested new Police Chief Phil Hart to assign an officer to all city council meetings, a practice that had been suspended during the Weaver years.]
Joseph Pettigrew and Zack Lessner were unanimously appointed to the Ethics and Accountability Board (EAB).
Pettigrew was nominated by Eva Worthing (9th Ward), and told EVM he hopes to help bring unity to the city. Pettigrew grew up in the Flint area, and as Worthing introduced him, she stated he is very involved in the community.
Lessner, a Flint native and realtor who with his wife runs a vintage clothing business, appeared before the council at its last meeting. He was nominated by Allan Griggs (8th Ward).
Security camera requirement for business proposal discussed
City Council conducted the first reading of an ordinance that would require many Flint businesses to install security cameras.
Thirteen types of businesses would be subject to the ordinance, including pharmacies, alcohol-related businesses, hotels, gas stations, convenience stores, and carry-out restaurants.
Several businesses would be exempt, including businesses not regularly open to the public and businesses approved by the chief of police to use alternate security measures.
The ordinance states that if a crime is believed to have occured, the business must present footage to the police department.
Council opinions on the proposed ordinance were split. Maurice Davis (2nd Ward) supported it, stating “With the way the crime rate is going, and the type of crimes, we got to do something… We don’t have the manpower, so why not utilize the technology?”
Kate Fields (4th Ward) voiced reservations. “This particular thing requires that certain businesses — and it’s almost every business in the city — have to buy a minimum of three cameras, and I don’t know if we can legally mandate that they do that… supposedly all of this information was going to feed into the police intelligence service.”
Fields continued, “I want to hear from some people in the ACLU about the right to privacy. For example, will this be on your doctor’s office? Planned Parenthood? Is that an invasion of privacy? Are they going to know when you go in to see a divorce lawyer?”
The ordinance was proposed by the former Mayor Weaver’s administration. Council decided that, considering the recent elections, the Neeley administration should have a chance to decide whether to submit it to council, and to make any necessary changes. It was postponed in a five-two vote with Allan Griggs (8th Ward) and Fields dissenting.
Finally, Mezon Green, during public speaking time, came to the podium and presented Mays the clown outfit she had famously donned at last month’s meeting to express her disdain for some of city council’s behavior.
Mays gleefully accepted the clown outfit, except the rainbow skirt. He took the red nose, the fuzzy wig and the polka-dot bow tie. He laid them on the chairperson’s desk as he was chairing the meeting. He lifted up the clown outfit pieces towards the end of the meeting during a contentious debate with Fields. Addressing her, Mays appropriated Mezon Green’s quote from the last meeting: “When you clown, I clown.”
EVM Staff Writers Tom Travis and Luther Houle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.