By Tom Travis
The last week of the year in Flint city government, normally a quiet time at City Hall, included a flurry of contentious events, including a special city council meeting called two days after Christmas, a statement from the Mayor Sheldon Neeley’s administration blasting the council, a sudden press conference by city council members, and more statements from the city as the administration completed its required audit to the State on time.
The news coming out of all of it was that, according to both the council and city administration, the City of Flint has a $24 million General Fund Balance, an increase of $4 million from a year ago.
Council continues brewing over finances
To recap: On Dec. 23 Council President Monica Galloway (7th Ward) and Council Vice President Eric Mays (1st Ward) announced a special city council meeting to be held on Friday Dec. 27 at 1 p.m. The announcement stated the purpose of the meeting would be to discuss two agenda items: The City of Flint finances and recent mayoral Appointments.
The City Council has been brewing over the past year about the City’s finances. With the departure of Harvard-trained Hughey Newsome as the City’s chief financial officer more questions have risen and fewer answers have been given concerning important financial matters. The council has asked several times for reports, budgets, and comparative reports of budget to actual.
Tamar Lewis, recently fired by the Neeley administration, had acted as the City’s Deputy Chief Finance Officer after Newsome’s resignation. Lewis had been the department’s go-to person attending City Council meetings to answer questions. She often had heated exchanges with council members when they asked for answers to their questions and felt Lewis gave less than satisfactory answers.
New city administrator pleads for better communication
Once Lewis was let go by the new administration Clyde Edwards, newly appointed city administrator, began attending every city council meeting, attempting to pacify the city council’s questions concerning finances.
Edwards was at the Dec. 27 meeting and was called to the podium by council. In a heated exchange during the special city council meeting Edwards became visibly upset when he was interrupted several times by Mays as he tried to answer questions from council.
Edwards stated, “If I could have some latitude? I think what is happening here is that there are communication issues. We entered this process, we entered this office, with no transition process, no one to talk to, no one to get information from.” Edwards pleaded with the council to present the administration with written questions in advance so that the administration could go to the proper people and answer the referred questions properly.
Talk, no action
The special city council meeting lasted an hour and forty minutes. No action was taken in but there was lively discussion and most council members voiced opinions about the city’s finances and some mayoral appointments.
Council President Galloway and Council Vice President Mays were the only two council members to speak for the first 45 minutes. Maurice Davis (2nd Ward) first spoke at 1:45 p.m. followed by Councilpersons Jerri Winfrey-Carter (5th Ward) and Herb Winfrey (6th Ward).
Councilpersons Santino Guerra (3rd Ward), Kate Fields (4th Ward), Allan Griggs (8th Ward) and Eva Worthing (9th Ward) were not present. Quorum for the meeting was met by the five councilpersons present: Mays, Galloway, Davis, Winfrey-Carter and Winfrey.
Time to support Neeley, Davis asserts
Davis pleaded with his city council colleagues to “come together and support the duly elected Mayor.” Davis added, “I supported Mayor Weaver but she lost and now Neeley is mayor. Davis said he will do everything he can to help Neeley get this situation, called Flint, under control.
Davis ended by saying, “The city is hurting.”
East Village Magazine attempted to reach out to Council President Galloway by email about whether she believed what she set out to accomplish was completed by the special meeting. Galloway has not responded to the email as of Dec. 31.
Raymer statement attacks council president
Following the Special City Council meeting Marjory Raymer, Chief Communications Director for Mayor Neeley and the City Administration released a statement responding to the special council meeting called by Galloway.
“This meeting today was a waste of time and taxpayer money,” the statement read. “This administration is working tirelessly throughout the holidays to meet a looming audit deadline that should be of primary concern for both the City Council and the Administration.
“Hopefully in the future, the Council president will choose to spend the city’s valuable time and resources more wisely,” Raymer’s statement continued.
“We must be able to do our work on behalf of the residents of Flint free of this type of interruption as well as the harassment by a City Council member that staff has reported. Enough is enough. It’s time to focus on our work serving the residents of Flint.
“We are optimistic that we will meet the audit deadline, despite these distractions and finding the process weeks behind schedule when we came into office.
“We hope and pray that in the future we can focus more on partnerships. We stand ready, willing, and able to join forces to move our city forward.”
Mays, Galloway retort to Raymer, announce audit results
Then mid afternoon on Monday, Dec. 30, Mays abruptly called a press conference in City Hall chambers for 5 p.m. Standing at the microphone with Galloway at his side, Mays summarized discussions he had as finance committee chair with the auditors concerning the proper flow of information.
Mays announced the audit had been completed and had been delivered to the Administration and the City Council. He said it showed the City of Flint has a $24 million General Fund Balance, an increase of $4 million from a year ago.
Mays said there will be a Finance Committee meeting in the new year where the auditors will be present and the city council will be able to ask questions to the auditors. He also expressed a desire to have the General Fund Balance up to $30 or $31 million by 2022 and 2023 and said, “we are on track for that.”
Continuing, Mays targeted media outlets, specifically FlintBeat and Mlive saying, “I don’t want the public or this new administration, to misinterpret the role of this legislative branch. We are in charge of year end audits. We are in charge of special audits. And I’m prepared, from the charter, to give to the media anybody who misconstrues the primary role of city council as it relates to allocated money.”
Referring specifically to Raymer’s statement blasting the council and Galloway, Mays stated, “I disagree with that. This is not a waste of taxpayer dollars. I was really disappointed with this new administration as people were terminated and let go. And orders were given to the finance department to not fully cooperate and we fought through it.”
Galloway spoke once during the press conference stating that as the Council President she has been meeting with the auditors throughout the process of the audit, Mays interjected that the Finance Chair has been in those meetings as well.
Mays ended by saying, “We will continue to be the keeper of the purse strings for the city of Flint.”
Audit completion confirmed by city administration
An hour after Mays’ press conference, Raymer released a statement saying,
“The City of Flint expects to submit its FY 2019 audit on time — completing the report by the Dec. 31 deadline despite being weeks behind schedule when the new administration took office last month.
“While the City Council hired the auditors, the credit for completing this report really goes to the city’s Finance Department. Mayor Sheldon Neeley issued a personal thank you to the team for working so hard to get the audit process back on track.
“Once the final audit report is completed and submitted to the state of Michigan, it will be released publicly.”
A later announcement confirmed the audit had in fact been completed and submitted.
EVM Staff Writer Tom Travis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.