By Tom Travis
Reeling from a primary election fraught with problems and lawsuits, the Flint City Council this week considered a motion to assist the City Clerk Inez Brown and the Clerk’s office as they prepare for the critical November 2020 election.
The stakes are high. After all, a foundation of democracy is the vote. The voting procedure landscape began to change in 2018 when Michigan passed Proposal Three allowing all eligible and registered voters in Michigan to request an absent voter ballot without providing a reason.
At Wednesday’s Flint City Council meeting after nearly six hours of debating resolutions and discussing city business, Fourth Ward Councilperson Kate Fields made a motion “for council to provide staff to assist the clerk with the election process by helping with the necessary training and certifications and writing of standard operating procedures.”
Bureaucratic processes moved slowly. During the seven-and-a-half-hour council meeting Wednesday, the council postponed nearly ten resolutions due to the fact that they lacked necessary signatures from the mayor, the Finance Department or other City administration department heads. The council members agreed they needed the resolutions presented to them with these signatures before they could be considered for adoption.
In an interview after the meeting, Fields said, “All night long we [the council] have voted to hold the administration accountable, not approving resolutions that lacked the appropriate signatures.”
She added, “No public servant is immune from being held accountable: the administration, the council and the city clerk. Now I’m not in any way impugning the clerk. I’m just trying to do my job and hold us all accountable in the most respectful and constructive way possible.”
“Is council saying the Clerk is exempt from being held accountable? Just because we all hold her in high regard? What kind of message does that send to the voters?” Fields said.
Ninth Ward Councilperson Eva Worthing stated, “I support this motion. This is one way we can help the Clerk, with additional staff. I’m not saying our Clerk did anything wrong, but there were problems with the August primary election. This motion will ensure November’s election goes smoothly and council has done their part.
In contrast, Fifth Ward Councilperson Jerri Winfrey-Carter said, “It sounds like we’re just going over head to get help. I will not support this motion.”
First Ward Councilperson Eric Mays asked if Fields or Worthing had talked personally to Clerk Brown. [In later council discussion Worthing said both Fields and she herself had spoken personally to Brown].
Council President Monica Galloway (7th Ward) grilled Fields on what she meant by using the word “staff” in her motion. Galloway referenced a failed motion Fields had brought forth in Monday’s Council meeting.
[Once a motion fails it cannot be brought back to be voted on by Council for 30 days or it can be brought to council by a motion to reconsider. Fields assured Galloway that this was a “new” motion, Galloway did not agree.]
Galloway added, “This is not a genuine way that you are presenting this motion.”
Mays continued, “Inez will come to Council with some budget proposals for her office in order to prepare for the November election.” Mays said he’d prefer to hear Brown’s proposals, then decide about Council’s assistance to the Clerk’s office.
During public speaking, East Lansing Attorney and Flint native, Patrick Levine Rose, spoke. He urged the Council to hire Marie McKenna Wicks, recently retired from the Elections Bureau, to conduct training for the Clerk.
[Rose represented the City and City Council in litigation in trial courts and on appeal from 1994-2007. Rose is an attorney and Fellow at the Michigan State University Center for Local Government Finance and Policy]
In a follow-up text message to EVM, Rose explained that Wicks was the Clerk in East Lansing and then worked in the Secretary of State Bureau of Elections. He said Wicks has conducted training for Brown and City and County Clerks in Michigan. Brown praised Wicks’ work in the training in a phone call to the Michigan Elections Bureau.
In public speaking Wednesday, Rose added, “This would not be controversial, it would be done not because Ms Brown has done something wrong but it would be proactive to ensure proper voting procedures are carried out.”
Rose clarified hiring this additional election official would not only ensure proper steps are taken to process all the absentee ballots but it would also provide training on Covid safety for voters and workers.
In the end, Fields’ motion failed in a 4-5 vote. Voting against the motion were Council President Monica Galloway (7th Ward), Eric Mays (1st Ward), Maurice Davis (2nd Ward), Jerri Winfrey-Carter (5th Ward) and Herb Winfrey (6th Ward).
EVM Assistant Editor Tom Travis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.