By Tom Travis and Melodee Mabbitt
Returning from the season of “Peace On Earth and Good Will To All” the City of Flint’s legislative body disintegrated into chaos and utter dysfunction at its first meeting of 2020.
The City Council’s meeting Wednesday was a finance committee meeting with a 16-page agenda. The committee room was overflowing with community members, a full team of City attorneys, and nearly a dozen members of the mayor’s administration and other City staffers.
Over the next four and a half hours, procedural arguments and struggles for control of the meeting prevented the committee from addressing any items of business on the agenda. Changes to the agenda took half an hour as Finance Committee Chair Eric Mays struggled to follow Robert’s Rules while making 4th Ward Councilperson Kate Fields’ requested changes.
Another hour was spent voting three times whether or not to go into a closed session to hear about ongoing legal cases. At issue was whether to only hear the two cases brought before the committee by City Attorney Angela Wheeler or to also include discussion of a memo from a city staffer regarding conduct by Councilperson Mays. The vote passed once the memo was removed from the motion.
Another hour was spent in closed session to discuss ongoing lawsuits including Palladeno et. al. v. City of Flint and Mathews vs. City of Flint.
“Her legs are shaking”
Acting Chief Financial Officer Amanda Trujillo spent nearly an hour standing at the podium waiting to answer questions regarding the city’s recent audit report. Meanwhile council members argued the relevance of Chairperson Mays’ line of questioning regarding Mayor Sheldon Neeley’s direction that Trujillo was not obligated to appear before council. Councilperson Fields also questioned whether discussion of the City’s ongoing suspension of water shut-offs was relevant. Audience member, Flint resident and activist Tony Palladeno, finally demanded that Trujillo be allowed to sit down because “her legs are shaking.”
“Mr. Mays, I’m disappointed that out of everything that’s been said tonight there has been no personal accountability for anything,” 7th Ward Councilperson and Council President Monica Galloway said as Mays argued with council members. “As much as you’ve said you appreciate the administration being here tonight, nothing that has been demonstrated tonight says that even though all of them are here.”
In the midst of heated discussion, Councilperson Santino Guerra (3rd Ward) called for a motion to suspend the rules in order to remove Mays as chair. The motion to suspend the rules passed 6 to 1, with Mays dissenting. Mays then misstated Guerra’s motion to remove Mays from chairing the finance committee by also including Fields as replacement, a suggestion that had not been previously mentioned.
“President gets to choose” — Galloway invalidates vote to remove Mays
“I won’t support that motion,” Galloway said. “The president gets to choose chairs. Just so you guys know, I’m not supporting that. I will support the removal but I’m not taking away the opportunity of the president.” Galloway then offered to chair the finance committee.
Though no one was removed, Mays requested that the Flint police officer present remove several council members who disagreed with him and audience members who laughed during the proceedings. In response, an audience member shouted, “Come arrest all of them!!”
The meeting finally disintegrated when Mays and Maurice Davis (2nd Ward) began arguing and Fields stood and left the meeting. Council members and audience members continued to argue loudly as they exited, including one audience member shouting repeatedly that Mays needs to resign because “we’re tired.”
Guerra told East Village Magazine (EVM) he was disappointed after the first meeting of the year.
“There was lots of wasted time. We sat here listening to a certain council member talk for hours, breaking multiple rules,” said Guerra, referring to Mays. “When we made a motion to have him removed, he continued to break the rules. I just hope that residents start paying more attention and vote in the next election.”
“This is frustrating,” said Councilperson Eva Worthing. “Four and a half hours of getting the meeting started and the only voice we heard was Eric Mays. A motion was made to remove Eric Mays and replace him with Kate Fields. Monica Galloway said she wouldn’t go along with that because she gets to make those appointments.
“This council will never be functional as long as Eric Mays is finance chair and vice president and it’s frustrating,” Worthing continued. “It’s frustrating for me, on the council, who wants to do work for my constituents and it’s frustrating for people in the audience.”
Mays: It’s about Robert’s Rules, holding mayor accountable
In an interview following the meeting with EVM, Mays explained that his behavior in the meeting reflects his attempts to hold the mayor’s administration accountable while also maintaining order by following Robert’s Rules of Order as well as rules that council has set for themselves.
Mays said he continues to have concerns about the mayoral election, as well as concerns about the mayor’s role in the audit, staff appointments that have not been properly approved, and the mayor directing staff to not respond to council requests. Mays said these issues must be addressed for the City to maintain home rule and not be brought back under control by the state.
“We have 9 council members. If each speaks for 10 minutes, that is 90 minutes,” said Mays. “Quit using time as a scapegoat for negativity.”
Flint resident James Mayfield said he attended the meeting because he’s studying for his master’s degree in public policy and was interested to see the city’s local government in action.
“This whole body needs to be revamped,” he said after the experience. “We’re a very resilient city, but we can’t get things done when there’s power struggles. These power struggles need to be done.”
Palladeno said Mays made some important points about things happening in the city that residents might otherwise not hear. “The only thing new about tonight is that we had administration here for the first time. Did it do us any good? I wouldn’t want the administration here if it is going to continue like this. Neeley needs to come here at some point, but he’s not going to be thrown to the lions like this,” said Palladeno.
City administration declining to respond
Following the meeting, EVM attempted to get a response from City Administrator Clyde Edwards, but he declined, requesting that EVM go through the city communications director Marjory Raymer.
EVM did reach out via email to Raymer, including requests for answers to several followup questions. As of the posting of this article she has not responded.
Council members present at the meeting were Mays (1st Ward), who chairs the Finance Committee, Council President Galloway (7th Ward), Worthing (9th Ward), Fields (4th Ward), Davis (2nd Ward), and Allan Griggs (8th Ward). Herb Winfrey (6th Ward) left the meeting at 6:30 p.m. and Santino Guerra (3rd Ward) arrived after 7 p.m. following his college class.
Members of the City administration present included City Administrator Clyde Edwards, Planning and Development Director Suzanne Wilcox, Purchasing Director Joyce McClane, Executive Liaison to the Mayor Tonya Burns, Interim Department of Public Works Director John Daly, and Chief Financial Officer and City Treasurer Amanda Trujillo.
The next City Council Meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 13. A Special Affairs Committee meeting, chaired by Mays (1st Ward) begins at 4:30 p.m.
EVM Staff Writer Melodee Mabbitt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. EVM Staff Writer Tom Travis can be reached at email@example.com.