By Tom Travis
Flint’s legislative body, the Flint City Council, struggled to maintain democracy and a quorum Monday, even with new leadership in place, at a council meeting that lasted seven and a half hours.
Two of the nine council members, Eva Worthing (9th Ward) and Herb Winfrey (6th Ward, were absent; Santino Guerra (3rd Ward) left midway through, and Eric Mays (1st Ward) repeatedly left his seat, walking around the council chamber or sitting with the audience.
Maurice Davis (2nd Ward), special affairs committee chair and new vice president after Mays was recently ousted, along with Monica Galloway (7th Ward) councilperson and council president, attempted to maintain order in their respective chairpersonships during the two regular meetings. The first was a special affairs committee meeting chaired by Davis followed by the council meeting itself.
Despite the chaos which has become characteristic of council proceedings, some city business was conducted and acted upon–but not without arguing and warnings from both Davis and Galloway about disorderly conduct.
In a five to one vote, the council approved Phil Hart as the new Flint chief of police, ending his “interim” status. Hart remains a candidate for Genesee County Sheriff.
Residents showed up to share their thoughts about an ongoing development of a recreational marijuana ordinance. Fifteen residents joined in a public hearing to complain about tickets and the functionality of the new downtown parking meters.
In a surprise announcement, City Administrator Clyde Edwards said the administration had decided to withdraw the appointment of John Daly as Department of Public Works (DPW) transportation and infrastructure director.
Finally, 1st Ward Councilperson Eric Mays gave an impromptu press conference concerning an incident Feb. 5 at Rube’s Bar and Grill between himself and DuVral Murdock, Mayor Sheldon Neeley’s deputy chief of staff.
Chief of Police Phil Hart addresses concerns
Three quarters of the way through the meeting, council heard from Hart, who has been in the role as interim chief of police since November. Mayor Neeley had appointed Hart as a 90-day interim chief of police days before Neeley’s inauguration.
Mays asked Hart if he plans on running a “discriminating” police department in a hostile work environment. Hart responded, “No.” Hart stated he is in the process of organizing training to help the police department to operate at its optimum.
“I hope to correct some of the wrongs done in the past,” he said.
The vote to hire him was five yes and one abstention, by Mays. Hart will stay on through August, 2020, at which time his contract will be re-evaluated.
City Administration withdraws DPW appointment
Concerning the withdrawal of Daly’s appointment, EVM spoke to Edwards in the hallway after the meeting. Asked why the administration withdrew Daly’s name, Edwards stated city administration is simply still considering other options on how to cover that position.
Edwards said Daly is still employed by the City of Flint and is still fulfilling the interim position as DPW Transportation and Infrastructure Director until his contract ends next week. The council unanimously passed the withdrawal of Daly’s appointment
Residents voice concerns about marijuana ordinance
During public speaking time, First Ward Flint resident Earl Hall was representative of several other residents who addressed the council concerning the ongoing ordinance development about recreational marijuana.
“Flint has a diverse market,” Hall said. “There’s an illegal market and now the option of having a legal market for recreational marijuana.
“If a legal market were to emerge. it would be more safe and secure because it’s regulated, instead of the uncertainty that arises in the illegal market. And it would also take business away from the illegal market, which would in turn revitalize our communities and make our streets safer. And crime would go down.”
“This would also begin the conversation in the pardoning African-American citizens within the state and our country who have unfortunately fell victim to being subject to the laws regarding first class subjectification for marijuana. It all comes down to criminal justice reform as well,” he asserted.
“Here’s the point, the drugs are in our city,” Hall continued. “They are prevalent and I could get some tonight even with lack of resources. It’s all about changing that distribution side from an illegal side to a legal side. It would benefit the city and the whole community as taxes are collected from the legal sale of marijuana.
New parking meters prompt many complaints
Fifteen residents spoke during a public hearing regarding the new parking meters in downtown Flint. The meters have caused a plethora of complaints from residents and business owners alike.
The Downtown Development Authority (DDA) installed the new parking meters throughout the summer 2019 and in October came into full use. Many residents began using the meters and then receiving ‘sample’ tickets in the mail. A grace period that lasted up until Dec. 31, 2019 was set up as a time for residents to get used to the new meters.
No representative from the DDA was present to respond. Council President Galloway reminded the audience that city council had passed a resolution to establish one-hour free parking in front of City Hall.
The tickets are still being issued and complaining residents pleaded with council and the DDA to fix the problem meters. Problems described by the speakers ranged from confusion as to what parking spot number to tap on the digital touch screen meters, debit cards or any payments not being accepted by the meters, the meters not functioning properly.
Eric Mays gives his side of Feb. 5 bar fight with city employee
After the Special Affairs Committee ended and before the City Council meeting began, Mays continued to talk in his microphone about an incident between him and DuVarl Murdock, City of Flint deputy chief of staff, at Rube’s Bar and Grill last week.
Mays stood up at his seat and began talking to members of the press. He stated a Michigan State Police Department contacted him and he will meet with a MSP detective this week for an ongoing investigation. He said he has begun civil litigation.
Mays claimed a surveillance tape from Rube’s has disappeared. He stated, “We heard that Mr. Neeley sent his folks over there to Rubes to get the tape….Some details we keep under our belt while investigation goes on. There are people attempting to lie and cover up from the Mayor’s office.”
[The day after the incident, the mayor’s office filed the following statement:
“Yet again, there are reports of even more inexcusable behavior by Councilman Eric Mays. This behavior is shameful and he is an embarrassment. We hope City Council will intervene to stop Mays’ ongoing mistreatment and harassment of City of Flint employees.
“This incident came after Mays was removed from a meeting of the City Council for disorderly conduct. It is the second meeting in a row in which Mays was removed. Mays was obviously angry during the meeting and was removed with the assistance of members of the public.
“DuVarl Murdock, a member of the mayor’s staff, was off work and at a local bar when Mays arrived. Murdock said Mays unleashed a series of insults and threats of violence at him, including “I am going to whoop your ***.” Mays then approached Murdock in a hostile fashion and Murdock defended himself.
“The police were called and Mays was asked to leave the establishment. Murdock was allowed to stay.”]
Mays objected to the press release. He said, “It alluded to a disturbance I caused. I went with five people and we went in and got a table and had some chicken wings and I was drinking some papaya juice. I’m glad it wasn’t Hennesey that night. Mr. Murdock was drinking. I don’t know if he was drunk or not.”
Mays alleged “Mr. Murdock viciously attacked me and he works in City Hall. I am concerned about my safety. Because he (Murdock) had been coming up to me for three months saying, ‘We’re from the streets. We’re from the streets. We’re from the streets.’ ”
He further alleged, “…the first assault was a touch and a slapping on my face. The second assault was a swing and a miss. Then he viciously slammed me to the floor and he was on me beating me.
“I’m glad for the bouncers though.”
Mays said he stayed at Hurley Hospital until 5:30 a.m. the next morning and that Hurley found blood in his urine. The xrays and pictures on his phone of his injuries were submitted into the police report that night, he said.
Mays rhetorically asked, “Do we have gangsters in City Hall?” Mays said depending on the results of the investigation he may ask for Murdock’s suspension and/or his immediate termination.
The statement from the mayor’s office said Murdock has filed a criminal report against Mays.
Quorum drama blow by blow: “It’s obscene this meeting has gone on this long”
Here is a partial account of how the council grappled with the meeting length and quorum issues Monday night.
At what seemed to be the end of the meeting, Mays had returned to his seat.
Fields began to collect her belongings to leave. Jerri Winfrey-Carter asked to be excused to use the restroom. Galloway asked Fields to hold off on leaving while Winfrey-Carter took a break. Fields agreed and stayed in her seat.
As Winfrey-Carter left, Griggs complained about feeling ill and was going to leave, but didn’t. Galloway informed the council about a few more resolutions that needed to be voted on.
Fields raised her hand and announced that she was not going to stay for a vote on resolutions. She said, “It’s ten after eleven. I know there is still some business, some resolutions. It is obscene that this meeting has gone on this long and that we’re here this late. So I don’t feel guilty about leaving and breaking up quorum. Something has to be done so that these meetings are a reasonable amount of time. And not a torture session.” Davis verbally agreed as she spoke.
Galloway then addressed council, “Listen guys, we work eight days a month. Outside of what you do with your constiuents. So even if you spend eight hours on those meeting dates you are working thirty two hours a month doing business before an open public. This is not about one person…”
Davis said, “This is about one person.” He stood and left his seat, breaking up quorum. Galloway announced, “We have lost quorum.”
Mays objected at that point and complained Galloway wasn’t doing her job because she didn’t have enough council members in their seats.
EVM City Council beat reporter and assistant editor Tom Travis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.