By Tom Travis
It was a jam-packed evening of activity at city hall on a chilly and snowy December Monday night, the last city council meeting of a tumultuous year for the city’s legislative body.
The council meetings this year have been five, six, seven, eight and even nine hours long, some stretching past midnight. This year there have been arms raised, voices yelling, threats made, name calling and numerous points of order and points of information — too many to count.
Beginning in January, 2019, the then Finance Committee chairperson, Eric Mays (1st Ward) was ousted from that role. Fast forward to the Fall of 2019, when he was reinstated and re-appointed as chair of the Finance Committee he had been ousted from by now Council President Monica Galloway (7th Ward).
Some citizens voiced weariness about the council’s frequent squabbles, among them resident Mezon Green, who donned a clown outfit at one meeting to make a point about a council that struggles to get business done in an efficient way.
Now with a new mayor in the executive branch and a new council president and vice president, the watchful citizens of Flint will have an opportunity to hold the council accountable for their actions in the new year.
The council year ended with three council sub-committees–legislative, governmental operations, and finance, on which all members participate — meeting one by one in the council chamber, followed by a mere one-hour official meeting of the council as a whole.
Council competed with pro-impeachment demonstrators
Some drama at the last meeting did not occur in the council chambers, for once: this time there was action outside on the front sidewalk of city hall. It was the day before the U.S. House of Representatives voted to impeach the 45th President of The United States, and citizens of Flint gathered to voice their support and disdain for the impeachment hearings and process.
Members of the press left their seats several times to check the action from the council’s third floor windows.
The two sides of the issue–anti- and pro-Trump– bantered back and forth outside on the sidewalks, lining Saginaw Street. The overall council proceedings lasted just over six hours while the protest took up half that time.
Meanwhile, the council saw a demonstration of the contested new parking meters, heard concerns from the ACLU and a private citizen about a proposed camera surveillance ordinance, received a summary of Mott Community College’s strategic plan, and reviewed information from the city administrator about leadership positions in the new administration.
About those parking meters
Gerard Burnash, executive director of the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) arrived with one of the new parking meters that have been installed in downtown Flint over the last few months.
Burnash set up the machine, plugged it into an outlet and fired it up for a demonstration. He summarized that the meters were installed downtown during the late summer and fall, and acknowledged the new meters have been fraught with complaints and frustrated residents complaining about them on social media.
Council members raised one specific concern and proposed one resolution about the meters. They noted that in years past residents had one hour free to park in front of city hall to pay water bills or do short drop-in business.
The new parking meters, in contrast, begin charging as soon as the driver pulls into the spot. The new system is high tech and has a camera system that takes a picture of the vehicle license plate. City Attorney Angela Wheeler clarified the City Council, not the DDA, sets the time for the parking meters.
Councilperson Jerri Winfrey-Carter (5th Ward) moved to extend the free time for parking meters in front of city hall up to three hours. Councilperson Eva Worthing (9th Ward) seconded the motion. Councilperson Maurice Davis (2nd Ward) then made a substitute motion upping the amount to four hours and Councilperson Kate Fields (4th Ward) seconded. Council President Monica Galloway (7th Ward) moved that resolution to the next council meeting for a decision.
Concerns raised on business surveillance system proposal
Attorney Glenn Simmington (www.simmingtonlaw.com) voiced concerns, along with with Genesee County and State of Michigan representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) regarding a pending ordinance calling for mandated camera surveillance at every business in the city.
Simmington said, “I’m not here to threaten a law suit. I’m here tonight because I’ve examined the ordinance and others with the ACLU have examined the law suit and there are some concerns.”
Simmington said he and the ACLU as a whole believe the ordinance is problematic because as written it is mandatory that businesses install cameras.
According to Supreme Court rulings and other cases, he said, there is a distinction made in the level of scrutiny of businesses that do have mandatory surveillance with cameras compared to those using non-camera or non-mandated surveillance techniques. These two types of businesses are dealt with in legal matters when a crime occurs and the camera system is used.
Another problem Simmington raised is that the ordinance would require 24/7 camera coverage from the surveillance system. The ACLU is concerned about business’ rights to privacy. The ordinance would require cameras to be running even after the business is closed and no one is in the building.
Simmington raised privacy and 4th Amendment issues that the ACLU sees as problematic throughout the ordinance.
The 4th amendment, part of the Bill of Rights and sometimes referred to as the “Search and Seizure” amendment, covers “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
Councilperson Eric Mays (1st Ward) stated the proposed ordinance is being properly processed through city council committees. The surveillance system, he noted, was brought to council by the previous mayor and police chief.
Councilperson Kate Fields (4th Ward) moved to postpone deciding on the resolution until the new mayor and new administration bring it back to council.
Mott Community College’s “Mott Strong” plan
Mott Community College President Dr. Beverly Walker-Griffea, the 7th president and first African-American and first woman to lead the college, presented a three-year strategic plan, titled “Mott Strong,” for the future of MCC. Representatives of MCC have been making the strategic plan presentation throughout the community.
Walker-Griffea noted that among the 1,100 community colleges in the country, MCC ranks among the top 150. She explained funding for MCC is tuition-driven, even more so as state appropriations have declined and because of shrinking local property taxes.
She stated, “We do not want our tuition to increase so that it becomes unmanageable for our students.”
She noted the college adds $440 million dollars to the Genesee County economy each year and provides over 6,800 jobs to the area. For every dollar MCC spends, taxpayers in Genesee County receive $2.90 in return. “It’s a better bet than the lottery,” she said.
Wearing MCC logo colors of black and gold, Walker-Griffea explained the three-point strategic plan is built on the words “Commitments, Civility and Compliance.”
“Commitments are to our students’ success. Civility means that we have to work with each other with mutual respect and we have to trust each other. Compliance means that we are always seeking that we are legal and have physical obligations met and are at par with where they need to be,” she said.
In the March 10, 2020 election, MCC is coming to voters to support an $80 million bond proposal, spread over 20 years. The .79 mil proposal would cost about $31.60 per year for the life of the bond for the owner of an $80,000 home.
According to MCC officials, the bond money would be used to renovate, remodel, improve, equip and re-equip college buildings and sites for instructional purposes.
City Hall leadership questions
City Administrator, Clyde Edwards was present and has been present for every City Council meeting since assuming his role for new Mayor Sheldon Neeley. Edwards was called forward to answer council’s questions and clarify roles and appointments in the new administration.
Edwards said Amanda Trujillo is the acting finance director. Tamar Lewis, who had been in that position, is no longer employed by the City of Flint, according to an email from Marjory Raymer, City of Flint director of communications.
Edwards also clarified that there are two Department of Public Works (DPW) directors: Rob Bincsik is DPW director over water, and newly appointed by Mayor Neeley John Daly is interim DPW director in charge of roads and transportation.
Council President Monica Galloway (7th Ward) asked Edwards and the City Finance Department to find out if there is budget money for two DPW directors.
Also, council members asked about Tyree Walker, presently serving as the city’s interim human resource director. Walker presently works as VP of Human Resources at Hurley Medical Center and is on loan to the City of Flint, Edwards said.
The City Council challenged the reasoning for Walker being paid $136/hour and working 28 hours a week for 60 days. Galloway said she’s not judging if he’s worth that amount of money, but just concerned that for a city like Flint in serious financial situation, if it is a wise expenditure.
EVM Staff Writer Tom Travis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.