By Tom Travis
Eric Mays made a dramatic exit from the City Council again Wednesday night. This time he left on his own accord in a storm of yelling at the entire council.
Business did return to normal with the departure of the First Ward councilperson, as the council voted on several ordinances to be moved to Monday’s council agenda. And new critical council leadership was voted on, nearly unanimously.
A larger than usual crowd showed up for the bi-monthly Flint City Council Committee meetings. A crowd of about 50 residents, several media agencies, including two TV stations with cameras focused on the council, awaited what was expected to be a dramatic evening.
After an hour of procedural back and forths, the meeting turned to a discussion of mayoral appointments. The council is responsible for signing off on the mayoral appointment of Flint Police Chief Phil Hart, along with interim Department of Public Works Transportation Director John Daly. According to the new Flint Charter, interim positions must be considered in 90 days. Hart’s 90 days end Feb 13.
[In a conversation after the meeting, Hart said he has not yet had any discussion with the mayor about continuing; in August, before Neeley’s election, Hart had announced he is running for Genesee County Sheriff. He said he is still running.]
Mays, recently removed from all leadership positions on Flint City Council after a previous series of disruptions, took the floor. He inquired why there weren’t any special hearings and open meetings so the council and the public could question new appointees by the mayor. Mays then began a long line of racist comments beginning with accusing the council and others of constructing a “Willie Lynch Syndrome” situation.
[William Lynch was a British Captain from the 1700’s who famously wrote what has come to be known as The Willie Lynch Letter where he instructed American slave owners on how to control slaves. The four page letter can be seen here (https://archive.org/stream/WillieLynchLetter1712/the_willie_lynch_letter_the_making_of_a_slave_1712_djvu.txt). The term lynching itself is said to have come from this man’s name.]
Mays continued that the council “works so hard trying to make a senior council member look like a fool.” Mays described what he said he saw as Mayor Neeley running circles around him and then patting him on the back.
Mays said, “I call that the Willie Lynch Syndrome in order to get the rowdy, rabble rousing slaves in order. And then once you divide ‘em by making them feel they better than the rabble rousing slaves, you done lost control. We had five solid votes until that Willie Lynch Syndrome snuck in.”
Government Operations Committee Chair Maurice Davis (2nd Ward) spoke directly to Mays . “Why do you bring up a term like Willie Lynching Syndrome into this body?”
Mays said, “I’m gonna tell you. Just like I looked up in the Urban Dictionary what a ‘handkerchief head negro’ is. [Mays had used that term at a previous council meeting] That’s a black person who bends over backwards to please a white person. Five black votes have been switched.”
Councilperson Jerri Winfrey-Carter interjected with a point of order asking how this was germane to the discussion about mayoral appointments. Mays stated, “I’m about to get there.”
But Davis interrupted Mays’ comments again by asking why Mays was bringing up the two “disrespectful” terms “Willie Lynch Syndrome and ‘Handkerchief Head Negro’.” Mays said he would explain. Davis implored Mays to not make any more references back to those terms.
Then Davis read an excerpt from the new charter referring to the chair making rules to punish and discipline its own members. Mays responded by saying, “You [Davis] and Kate Fields been to bed together.” Other council members complained that Mays made that statement and Mays said it’s a figure of speech.
Mays argued back and forth with Davis. Mays said to Davis, “I ain’t no punk. You ain’t gonna keep hollering at me. You not gonna be talking to me like I’m a god-dang kid.”
Councilperson Kate Fields (4th Ward) then raised her hand and made a motion to have Mays removed from the meeting for disorderly conduct.
Councilperson Allan Griggs (8th Ward) seconded the motion. Then Mays took the floor in the discussion period for that motion stating that he has no problem with an angry black man yelling at him in public in front of the cameras.
Mays entered into a rant about how the votes on the council had been divided into black and white votes. Davis attempted to gain control but Mays yelled over him. Mays said, “I’m black. I’m proud to be black. My ward is black. And the black vote has been split and (Mayor Sheldon) Neeley is involved and I can describe a Willie Lynch Syndrome when it come to the appointment of John Daly (interim DPW Transportation Division Director) and the Chief of Police (Phil Hart). This city ain’t had a white police chief in over 30 years.”
Davis responded to Mays, “You’re a basket case.” Council President Galloway said, “Point of Order” several times attempting to get recognized. Mays then called Davis a “handkerchief head pony tail negro.”
Mays gathered his papers, coat and hat and stormed out of the council. Some members of the audience surrounded Mays as he exited. Two Flint Police officers followed Mays and those walking with Mays as they exited.
Mays continued to yell. Davis, from his seat as Chair of Government Operations Committee, said to Mays, “You need help, you need help, have a good night.”
Davis then called a five-minute recess to bring the meeting back to order.
When the Government Operations Committee reconvened, the council formally made a motion to remove Councilperson Mays from the meeting, even though he had already exited.
Councilperson Santino Guerra (3rd Ward) made a motion to suspend the rules. It was unanimously approved to suspend the rules. With the rules suspended, Guerra then made a motion to nominate Maurice Davis as Council Vice President and Chairperson of the Special Affairs Committee (both positions previously held by Mays).
Davis received a unanimous election by council. Upon which there was some applause from the council members present. Davis said, “I thank my colleagues.”
Then Guerra made a motion to appoint Fields (4th Ward) as Finance Committee chair. Fields was voted in as Finance Committee Chair with Councilpersons Winfrey-Carter (5th Ward) and Galloway (7th Ward) voting no for Fields’ appointment.
Speaking with EVM in the hallway after she left the meeting for the night, Fields shared this response about being elected Finance Committee Chairperson, “Well it’s a big responsibility and we’ll be going into the budget process soon. This will be challenging but as finance chair I’m going to preside at the meetings, apply the rules, apply the rules fairly, not let any one individual disrupt proceedings, and try to get city business accomplished.”
After adjournment for the evening, Davis, who is already chairperson of the Rules Committee and the Special Affairs Committee, spoke to EVM about what he hopes to bring to council as Vice President and chair of Special Affairs Committee.
“Peace, Unity, start to take this city in the direction it deserves to go in.” Davis said. “It’s time to get out of neutral and put this car in drive and let’s go–instead of opposing and fighting the administration. Everything that comes up here from the administration stalls out and it’s time to stop that. The city deserves more than that.”
City Council President Monica Galloway declined to answer any questions about the meeting or the new council leadership.
City Administration personnel present for Wednesday’s meeting were, Chief of Staff Brian Larkin; City Administrator Clyde Edwards; Department of Public Works (DPW) Transportation Director John Daly; Department of Public Works Water Division Director Rob Bincsik; City Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer Amanda Trujillo.
Also, two and at times three Flint police officers were present. On Thursday, Chief Hart said he has assigned one officer routinely to council meetings but the City Clerk had requested more officer coverage for last night’s meeting.
The next City Council meeting will be at 5 p.m. Monday, Feb. 10 at City Hall.
EVM Assistant Editor and City Council beat reporter Tom Travis can be reached at tomntravis.gmail. New EVM intern Coner Segren contributed to this report.