By Tom Travis
Censured Councilperson Eric Mays (1st Ward) returned to City Council Chambers Monday night despite being censured for 30 days by his council colleagues, and a stream of residents lined up at the speaker’s podium to voice their displeasure about his exclusion from meetings. Those opposed included many from the 1st Ward, along with a well-known activist with Flint roots, Sam Riddle, who joined in to lambaste the council for its actions.
The blast of reactions came just after the Special Affairs Committee emerged from executive session from the committee room. The committee reconvened in the large council chamber because of the large number of citizens in attendance.
More than 100 people turned out–almost all apparently to support Mays or to criticize the council’s procedures — during the designated public speaking time. The residents filled seats usually vacant week after week during city council meetings.
Before Maurice Davis (2nd Ward and Council Vice President) began the meeting, Mays went to his usual spot and sat down. Immediately after Davis called the meeting to order, Councilperson Kate Fields (4th Ward) objected to Mays’ presence at the council table.
“As a point of order the councilperson for the 1st Ward is sitting up here and he has been censured and should not be sitting at the council table. He should be sitting, if anywhere, in the audience.”
In response there were several outbursts from the audience to which Davis replied, “We will have order in the chamber. We will not have shout outs from the audience.”
Mays spoke into his microphone, “point of information.” Chairperson Davis, not recognizing Mays, asked City Attorney Angela Wheeler to read the portion of the charter (Charter section 3-103b) that gave council permission to censure Mays.
Then Chairperson Davis, addressing Mays, said, “Mr. Mays, please, I’ll say it again, Please, take a seat out in that audience.” Mays said, “Yes sir, I’ll do that. But y’all didn’t have a public hearing or give public notice.” Mays rose from his council seat and proceeded to the audience.
Riddle: “Slamming the door on democracy”
First up at the public speaking podium was Sam Riddle, the political director of the Michigan National Action Network (nationalactionnetwork.net), an organization founded by the Rev. Al Sharpton and based in Detroit.
Riddle said, “We take exception to the behavior of this body, this Flint city council, towards the people represented by Councilman Eric Mays. This is bigger than Councilman Mays. And I know Councilperson Mays’ behavior over the years and I can understand how it can irritate members of the council.”
Riddle continued, “By removing Mays you are not really hurting Mays–you are slamming the door on democracy. He was elected by the people of his ward. Those are the people who can exercise punishment on him by not reelecting him and by recalling him.”
Riddle, drawing a personal connection to Flint, said, “My parents are buried in Flint, my sister is a breast cancer survivor and she lives in Flint. The National Action Network (NAN) will be moving in the legal arena shortly to protest this action that slams the door on democracy. You have slammed the door on democracy, You were wrong for that. For anyone that knows how we move, we don’t bluff. You’ll be seeing us on another level, have a great day.” Many audience members then rose to their feet amid thunderous applause.
As Riddle left, nearly 10 residents had already lined up behind him to speak. Throughout the evening as the line of speakers went down more residents marched up to get in line to speak.
Some residents voiced concern with Mays’ behavior. Some speakers stated that they didn’t always agree with Councilperson Mays. But almost all the speakers implored the council to do due diligence in following correct procedures when having a councilperson removed or censured from city council meetings.
At the heart of many residents’ contention towards council was that during the time Mays is censured from his elected seat for one month, the constituents who elected him would go unrepresented.
Florissa Stebbins of the 1st Ward stated, “We understand what happened here and we (members of the 1st Ward) feel disenfranchised. Our voices are being silenced by having our council person removed without due process.”
Former Flint mayoral candidate and local business owner Don Pfeiffer came to the podium fuming, “We see what you’re doing. You’ve silenced Mays because you know that he is willing to ask the tough questions and none of you will.”
Many in the audience stood and applauded as Pfeiffer continued, “You’re disputing over one person. Are you that shallow?”
Looking at Maurice Davis (2nd Ward) Pfeiffer said, “Mr. Davis, I have a lot of respect for you and I can’t believe you’re part of this. It’s expected from the white people of this board.”
Gesturing towards 9th Ward Councilperson Eva Worthing, Pfeiffer said, “She’s too busy playing Solitaire to care what the people are saying.”
Pfeiffer gestured at Councilperson Kate Fields (4th Ward) and said, “She’s too busy going out for a cigarette.” Gesturing at Allan Griggs (8th Ward), Pfeiffer said, “and he’s too busy drinking.”
Worthing called a point of order and stated there were to be no personal attacks. Pfeiffer yelled into his microphone to Worthing, “If you don’t want to be here then quit, turn in your badge and leave.”
Chairperson and Council Vice President Davis instructed Pfieiffer to not use personal attacks. Pfeiffer ended his comments by saying, “You have a man who wants to be here and you won’t let him.”
Residents raise concern over gun safety in public meetings
Wilbert Jarrett, who had been removed from last week’s meeting along with Mays, stood to speak. He pleaded with the council to establish a gun free zone at City Hall as they do at the Court House.
“You need to institute those same gun free rules right here at the front door of city council.” Jarrett said, pointing out people in attendance at the council meeting who he claimed regularly carry guns, including Davis and Pastor Allen Gilbert, chair of the new Ethics Accountability Board (EAB).
Second Ward Flint resident Audrey Muhammad reiterated Jarrett’s remarks. She referenced an April 2006 incident at Cincinnati city council. She stated, “When I lived down there, a man made a comment in city council and walked outside and got shot and died three days later. I sat with him and watched him die, I was there. And they were arguing about the same stuff going on up here. I don’t care if I don’t agree with you or I don’t like you, I don’t care. I don’t want to see any of you dead.”
A pastor from the 1st ward takes the seat of Eric Mays
Pastor Freelon Threlkeld of Faith Baptist Temple offered his opinion about the council’s choice to censure Mays, “This is a distraction and a disgrace to the residents of Flint,” he said. As Threlkeld left the podium he turned and said, “One more question, can I sit in that chair to represent the people of the 1st ward?” He proceeded to walk over and sit in Mays’ seat representing the 1st Ward.
Council President Monica Galloway said, “He is out of order and he is making a mockery of this proceeding.”
Flint resident Jeremy Drummond said, “It is a gross injustice to remove Councilperson Eric Mays from his seat on Council. I understand that under the charter you can remove him. But we the people were not notified with a two-week notice.”
Drummond further added, “If I have to spend my own money I will fight to get council to fight this injustice.”
“I didn’t come here to make any threats,” Drummond concluded, “I came here to make a promise. And I believe it’s a violation of his civil rights and not only that the people are not being represented. We are bigger than all of this council.”
Well-known local activist Claire McClinton came to the podium to declare, “Our previous mayor once said the water crisis will not be over until we the people say it’s over. Eric Mays should stay in his seat until the people in the 1st Ward say it’s over.”
Felicia West of the 5th Ward commented, “The last time I was here I talked to the city council about using wisdom in their decisions–the way they talk, giving each other the type of respect the job deserves. But somehow that’s lost.”
West recalled, “My mother used to always tell me. You catch more bees with honey than you do with vinegar. Which means you need to use wisdom. We have all these people (referring the constituents of the council) you all represent us. There are people outside the city of Flint that are looking on everything that’s going on and they’re hoping that our city council and our city fails. We cannot fail. We are Flintstones.”
West implored, “You have to use wisdom when making decisions….When you are pointing your finger at someone you’ve got three fingers pointing back at you. It’s time to fold up all this arguing. Look at what you need to look at to represent us as a people.”
Finally, Councilperson Mays went to the public speaking podium.
“I am Councilperson Mays. This council needs to understand two or three things,” he said.
“Whenever you enact an ordinance you must have a public hearing,” he began. Mays asked the council to read Charter section 1-801.
Clarifying why he asked to be arrested last week in City Council, he said, “I said ‘arrest me’ because I’m tired of being removed repeatedly, wrongfully, discriminatorily. Kate Fields can cuss in the meeting and give me the finger and nobody said nothing.”
Galloway said, “His time is up.” Mays responded, “I’m sure it is up.”
Nonetheless, Mays continued. “But my time isn’t up,” he said. “You all keep speaking up and exposing yourself and your time might be up.” The audience cheered.
He continued, “It’s hard to man up and admit you made a mistake.”
As Mays was leaving the podium, referring to City Attorney Angela Wheeler, he said, “Angela is trying to keep her job with Neeley. Neeley wants me gone. Angela ain’t telling you all the whole legal story.”
In all, public speaking time lasted an hour and half as residents lined up to share their thoughts. While most spoke about Mays’ removal, many residents also addressed an upcoming vote on the marijuana ordinance.
After residents had their say, council members responded. First to speak was Councilperson Santino Guerra (3rd Ward).
“You don’t have to agree with me,” Guerra said. “I just ask that you listen to what I have to say, that’s all I ask.”
Guerra said he claims to know that not everyone on this council is perfect. “I don’t think I’ve ever met a perfect human being. Noting that Mays’ ward borders his own, he said, “I’ve known Eric since before I got elected. I think Eric does a great job.”
But referring to the meeting when Mays was censured, Guerra noted Mays had been disorderly and he had been so in many previous meetings. Guerra clarified that Mays said that evening during his removal that he would not leave unless he was in handcuffs.
“Mays was censured for 30 days from this city council chamber due to his actions. I believe that action was reasonable based on his actions,” Guerra concluded.
Kate Fields (4th Ward) stated, “Censuring Mr. Mays was all about behavior modification.” She said the city council cannot get to serious city business on the agendas due to Mays’ behavior.
Fields used an analogy of taking a child grocery shopping. A certain type of behavior is expected from the child to allow the adult to get the shopping done, she said. But an audience member called out, “You can’t compare him (Mays) to a child.”
Fields ended by addressing those objecting to the censure.
“I believe your anger is misplaced. You need to direct that anger at the person who refuses to control their behavior so they can be here, so they can have a seat, and represent you. You may support him but his behavior is keeping him from conducting business for you.”
The Special Affairs Committee adjourned and no further action was taken concerning Councilperson Mays. Following the Special Affairs Committee, the City Council met. The City Council met until midnight. The report of that City Council meeting follows in a separate report.
The next City Council Committee meeting will be held at 5 p.m.Wednesday, March 18 on the 3rd floor of City Hall.
EVM Assistant Editor and City Beat reporter Tom Travis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.