By Tom Travis
On the eve of the sixth anniversary of the Flint water crisis, at a Zoom press conference called Friday afternoon, Mayor Sheldon Neeley said, “We still find ourselves working through it” and clarified one outgrowth of it — a secondary water source pipeline which has come up again recently before the Flint City Council.
The mayor also commented on the city’s response to the coronavirus and extended the city curfew to May 15.
Asked for further comment about the pending pipeline contract decision being debated by the council, Mayor Neeley stated, “We should be farther along in our critical infrastructure repair as we are now.”
“What the city council is considering right now is a mandate from the EPA [U.S. Environment Protection Agency] and EGLE [Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy] and what they agreed to in the previous year. What they are discussing now should have been completed in December 2019. To date no work has been done on that particular project that was scheduled to be done in December 2019.”
The five and a half mile long pipeline would provide untreated water from the Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA) as a backup provided if needed by the Genesee County Drain Commission to water provided by the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA).
Neeley further emphasized, “I don’t think the previous administration took it seriously enough. But this administration will that this very seriously. And we’ll try our very best to move things forward. So I would like those like minded members of the council to reaffirm on the vote they have already approve and go forth and allow this process to start by the mandate of EPA and EGLE.”
Clarifying, Neeley stated, “This won’t cost the taxpayers one dollar. This is all funded with the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act (WIIN) dollars. So this is a total benefit and an easy one because right now the City of Flint has no back up source of water. If we had a catastrophic problem to our partners source of water it would leave us in a very bad situation.”
“This project was scheduled to be completed last year under the previous administration. They had not started any work on this. We have ramped up and are moving pretty fast to try and get things in line and get things further along so we won’t be in the same position at the seventh year anniversary [of the water crisis].”
Finally, concerning the pipeline, Neeley stated, “So, optimistically, we are going to be looking at a future where we can start to restore the confidence with our residents. And as our government tries to remediate the trauma that happened to our community 6 years ago tomorrow.”
“We are working towards that and this administration will live inside the agreed upon terms of all that happened prior with the 30 year GLWA agreement that we are operating in now.”
Neeley noted that 85 percent of the lead pipe replacement has been completed. But that work of lead pipe replacement was suspended during the pandemic. However Neeley said, “this week we will continue to repair roads and residents’ yards.” He said This work does not require workers to engage in personal contact with residents so this work will begin again this week.
Mayor extends mandatory city curfew until May 15
Mayor Neeley announced that the City of Flint’s Pandemic Curfew is extended until May 15. The curfew is from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. He emphasized that, “We will strictly adhere to the curfew.” He also noted that there have been no incidents concerning the curfew but there have been many conversations with people to encourage them to adhere to the curfew.
The Mayor and Chief Hart comment on the curfew and crime
Neeley noted that crime is down. But the mayor was asked for clarity on that issue because the number of homicides have increased when compared to the number this time last year. Hart agreed that homicides are up slightly but he said the overall crime rate is down 1 1/2 per cent.
Chief of Police Phil Hart noted that while there have been no arrests or incidents with “non-cooperataive” residents the police have come upon groups gathered outside after curfew and after asking if they were okay and seeing there were no further issues they have been asked to disperse and every one has cooperated.
Mayor says Flint has acted pro-actively in the pandemic
Neeley speaking about what he called the City of Flint’s “pro-active preparation” for the pandemic reiterated, “the City of Flint declared a state of emergency 8 days before the first case of COVID-19 was identified in the city.” Also, he had ordered water reconnection 16 days before it was mandated by Governor Whitmer’s executive order.
Neeley said, “We have done the things that saves lives,” further noting, “We are the only community in the state of Michigan that has a curfew that is working. We are saving lives.”
Neeley said, “We have had a lot of heroes that fell victim to this pandemic. We don’t want to lose anyone else. We have to champion the lives of those we have already lost by protecting our lives. We need to engage in this fully. Paying attention and observing all the executive orders of our governor and the emergency declarations of this city and municipality.”
Neeley noted that the city of Flint hospital beds are not all full. He attributed that to the city’s proactive procedures he and his administration have taken. Neeley also said that he and his wife, State of Michigan Representative Cynthia Neeley have not been tested but they plan to be tested soon.
Yard waste and large bulk item trash to resume next week
Neeley announced that, “Life will start to resume slowly. Next week yard waste and large bulk item trash collection will resume.”
Mayor announces Dr. Lawrence Reynolds as health advisor to the City of Flint
Neeley announced that Dr. Lawrence Reynolds is officially on the City’s payroll as Health Advisor to the City of Flint. Dr. Reynolds will be working in the capacity out of the health navigator’s office. In a follow up email with the mayor’s office it was stated that Dr. Reynold’s contract calls for him to be paid $20,000 with a start date in March and ending on December 31, 2020.
Neeley added, “Hiring Dr Reynolds was a great investment. We’re saving lives. His advice has been paramount for making sure that we make the right decisions in doing so. Dr. Reynolds wasn’t in our budget before, the water credits that we gave to residents, that was not planned in our budget, but it was a necessary thing to help families in our community.”
Neeley said, “Black and Brown communities have been adversely impacted, more so than others by the pandemic and as Flint is a predominantly African-American city we have large numbers that have been impacted. It would have been higher if we had not prepared and been proactive about what we need to do. We need to respect life.”
Neeley stated further, “I don’t want to say that I enjoy making these decisions but these are decisions that have to be made to protect life. I don’t want to be in a community where I won’t make a good decision that causes the loss of life.”
Mayor discusses City Budget increase and “variables” to pay for budget increases
In Wednesday’s City Council Finance Committee meeting it was noted that the City’s revised budget, that will be presented to the Council on Monday, April 27 is increased by $12 million dollars from $59 million to $71 million.
Neeley said there is no way to project revenue coming into the city. He noted some “variables” that make this difficult, including, state revenue sharing will be less, income tax income for the city will be less and later in the year. Neeley said, “These are all variables for our budget projection.”
Neeley said, calling out the city council, “A few council people that have been problematic and I call them ‘practicing fault finders’ in doing different things, trying to slow things. Their questions are important but they do have to understand that getting those numbers in and having them in a definite place of understanding. We just can’t know what those levels of impact are going to be from the State and from our income tax.”
Mayor Neeley said that City Hall remains closed to the public. He said there are 175 city employees, most of them working from home during the pandemic.
The EVM reporter joined the press conference with Neeley, Hart, and Reynolds from home today by video conference, along with five to ten other members of the media.
EVM Assistant Editor and Flint City Hall Beat reporter Tom Travis can be reached at email@example.com.