By Tom Travis
Councilperson Kate Fields (4th Ward) and chair of the City Council Finance Committee found a way to shorten council business at Tuesday’s telephonic/video budget session.
Before the session began and out of earshot of the public and the press, an interaction between Councilpersons Monica Galloway (7th Ward), Eric Mays (1st Ward) and Fields led Fields to mute Galloway and Mays. Then Fields removed both from the meeting.
Moments later, Councilperson Jerri Winfrey-Carter (5th Ward) asked Fields why Galloway and Mays were muted and removed from the meeting. Winfrey-Carter then removed herself from the meeting in protest of Fields’ actions.
In the midst of the muting and protests, the council still managed to hear positive budget and staffing news from the police and fire chiefs and to receive feedback from Ombudsperson Tane Dorsey and members of city’s Ethics and Accountability Board (EAB) alarmed by surprise cuts to their funding in the proposed city budget.
Fields commented in a phone interview Wednesday that it was a “wonderful, productive meeting.” The meeting lasted from 5:30 to 7 p.m. She said within that hour and a half the remaining councilpersons fully accomplished the purpose of the meeting.
Fields explained the session was not a council meeting nor a “special” council meeting. She described it as akin to a “departmental budget hearing” therefore she said, “there are no rules and no points of order are allowed.” Fields further stated the parameters of the meeting to include, “Quorum is not necessary and while there will be public comment the council will not respond to public comment.”
In the interview, Fields said Mays and Galloway began yelling “point of order” even before she could start the meeting. Fields said she had no option but to mute them until she was able to explain the format of the budget session.
Ethics and Accountability Board and Ombudsperson Budget cut is an “oversight”
A glaring cut of $143,000 from the budget was noted by several council members. The cut was from the Ethics and Accountability Board (EAB )and Office of the Ombudsperson budget. Councilperson Herb Winfrey (6th Ward) asked, along with Councilperson Allan Griggs (8th Ward), why the EAB budget was cut. Winfrey asked how it can be cut since the EAB and Office of the Ombudsperson is now enshrined in the city’s Charter. “How can the budget be cut without changing the charter?” Winfrey asked.
Flint’s Ombudsperson Tane Dorsey called into the meeting during the public comment period to express her opinion to the council and city officials. Dorsey along with the new EAB President Allan Gilbert, former EAB President Loyce Driskill and EAB member Joseph King, all called in during the public comment period. Each pleaded with the council and city administration to reconsider the budget cut. They each requested that the budget for the EAB and Office of the Ombudsperson be set at a minimum of $250,000.
Eric Scorsone, Mayor Neeley’s city of Flint appointed financial advisor, noted an oversight on the finance department for the cuts to the Ethics and Accountability Board (EAB) and the Office of the Ombudsperson. Councilperson Allan Griggs (8th Ward) asked Scorsone about the cuts and said that he was “hopeful” that it could be resolved tonight. Scorsone responded that it was an oversight and they would be able to pull funds from other areas of the budget to make up for those cuts.
The City Administration responds to EAB budget oversight
In an email Wednesday, the City Administration said the $143,000 cut to the Office of the Ombudsperson was an oversight. Dorsey had reached out to the administration last week concerning this cut. The City Administration said in Wednesday’s email, “We immediately assured Tane Dorsey that this was accidental and that we would ask the City Council to fund the office at $250,000, as required by the Charter. The administration will provide the City Council with a recommended amendment to the proposed budget for its next meeting.”
Flint Police and Fire Departments plan to hire
Both Police Chief Phil Hart and Fire Chief Raymond Barton were present in the telephonic/video budget session. Each chimed in to assure the council their departments have openings and these positions have already been covered through budget allowances. Both Hart and Barton said they will be hiring.
Barton said the Fire Department will be hiring in the Summer of 2020. Hart said he had 16 positions open for hire and Barton said his department has about the same number in addition to about 4 recently opened positions due to retirements, resignations and employees moving to other city departments.
The budget as discussed in Tuesday evening’s meeting is that still stands at $72 million of which $34 million is legacy costs (retirement and retiree health care costs). EVM has been reporting on the city’s budget development since it was presented in March. Recent EVM articles about the city’s budget can viewed here and here.
The City Council will meet by telephone/video conference on Tuesday, May 26 (due to Monday being a holiday, Memorial Day). The city budget will be discussed again at that time. According to the city’s charter, a budget must be passed by June 1. A meeting for June 1 is expected but is yet to be scheduled.
EVM has reached out by phone to Councilperson Galloway for a response. At the printing of this article she had not yet responded.
EVM Assistant Editor and City Beat reporter Tom Travis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org