By Tom Travis
Flint City Council met in committee session on Wednesday for the first time since April, 2020, resuming a COVID-delayed structure that allows the council to discuss resolutions, ordinances, appointments and special orders that will appear on the next City Council agenda.
Unlike in most recent meetings, the council managed to conduct business for five and a half hours with no chaos.
The committee sessions usually are held twice a month. Committees meeting through out the year include Finance, Grants, Legislative, Special Affairs, and Governmental Operations. In April 2020, due to COVID-19, the council voted to suspend regular committee meetings.
The council has met electronically for regular and special council meetings only–many meetings stretching to 8, 9 and even more than 10 hours. The length of the meetings was somewhat due to the fact that the council was not meeting in committee sessions, where members have an opportunity to discuss at length sometimes complex resolutions.
Last month the council voted to resume committee sessions.
Jefferson School transfer of deed to Second Chance Church discussed
In the Governmental Operations Committee Wednesday night the council attempted to dissect a somewhat convoluted timeline of the former Jefferson School property. According to Amanda Trujillo, city treasurer and acting chief financial officer, the property at 5306 N. Home Ave. in Flint’s north end has gone from being owned by the City of Flint to Genesee County and the Second Chance Church.
Councilperson Eric Mays (1st Ward) attempted to get some answers about the property. Namely, Mays requested information about who owned the property and when they owned it. Second Chance Church has recently attempted to get the property deeded in their name. In 2019 EVM reported that the Second Chance Church was interested in purchasing the building, at 5306 North St., for their church.
Adding to the difficulty of property ownership is a current water bill of $100,000.
In the 2019 Council Committee meeting then-City Administrator Steve Branch informed the council of a $36,000 water bill connected to the property, adding, “The property needs to be in good standing and with a $36,0000 water bill this is going to be an issue.”
Back then, Councilperson Monica Galloway (7th Ward) asked if the administration had been in dialogue with Second Chance Church. Branch said no, but clarified that “in good standing” means the bills have to be paid and the water bill would have to be taken care of for any purchase to proceed.
Wednesday, Trujillo told the council that in October, 2014, the water bill for the former school was $0 and the property was in the name of Second Chance Church. Trujillo said, according to city records, that then the water bill was recorded as being $692.18 when The City of Flint received the property in December, 2016.
Attempting to iron out the rollercoaster of a timeline and water bills, Mays asked when ownership switched to the City of Flint. Trujillo said it went from Second Chance Church to Genesee County in March, 2016, then in December, 2016 went from Genesee County to the City of Flint.
Mays is seeking a specific resolution for the transfer of ownership of Jefferson School to Second Chance Church. The former Jefferson School property matter will come to council at next Monday’s regular meeting. Action will be taken at that time.
EVM has contacted several departments within the city, including the mayor’s office, inquiring why and how the water bill at the former Jefferson School has gone from $0, to $600, to $36,000 and now to $100,000. At the time this article was published there has been no response.
City Attorney Wheeler points out issues with transfer of ownership
City Attorney Angela Wheeler then raised two issues that she said needed to be dealt with before a resolution could be drafted concerning the Jefferson School property.
First was the issue of the $100,000 lien for a water bill at the property.
Second, Wheeler clarified that when a property is transferred it needs to be identified to whom the property is being transferred. That will have to be determined before a transfer can be complete.
Mays asked Wheeler if she thought a resolution could be drafted that quickly if it was clear who it would be transferred to and Wheeler said yes.
Councilperson Fields sees “several problems” with Jefferson property
Councilperson Fields (4th Ward) said, “I think there are several problems with the Jefferson School. The resolution doesn’t say to whom the school will be sold to. Mr. Mays is trying to give this property back to Pastor Aldridge and Second Chance Church who lost a property because they didn’t pay their taxes and ultimately didn’t pay the water bill. I don’t know why we’d give a property back to someone who didn’t pay their taxes in the first place and lost the property.”
Fields addressed another issue of concern to Councilperson Herb Winfrey (6th Ward) who Fields noted is a trustee on the Second Chance Church board.
“It is my understanding, and I know it puts Councilperson Winfrey in a difficult position because he is a trustee for the church,” Fields said, “I’ve been told that the trustees voted and do not want the building. I think that’s problematic. Who wants this property? Maybe the church doesn’t even want this building.”
Councilperson Winfrey, confirming he is a trustee on the Second Chance board, replied that the church is not interested in the property if the water bill comes along with the sale of the property.
Fields stated, “The fact is that this bill goes with this property. As I understand it the water is still turned on and Pastor Aldridge still has keys to the property and continues to use the property.”
Auditors suggest an improved “disposition of properties” process be developed
The financial auditors for the City, Rehmann, have pointed out to the council numerous times that the City doesn’t have a proper process for the disposition of property.
Fields said that in a discussion with Suzanne Wilcox, director of planning and development, Wilcox stated the city does have a very detailed policy of disposition of city property but “what we’re lacking in this program is a criteria for how a decision is made and what criteria do we use to decide what property we bring out of foreclosure.”
Mayor offers deal to church for payment of water bill
Fields stated that Mayor Neeley has made an offer to Pastor Aldridge which is a long-term lease for 20 years at $5000 per year, with $5000 per year applied to the water bill.
Fields pointed out that City of Flint is “still on the hook” for the water bill because the City of Flint has to pay for the commodity of water to Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA).
Fields suggested that the Jefferson School be put “back on the auction block” with the starting bid of the $100,000 water bill amount.
Responding to Fields, Mays said, “I heard you say a lot but what you’re missing is that this is the City’s bill. It’s the City’s property.”
Councilperson Galloway says the Jefferson school property is “a hard sell for me.”
Councilperson Galloway (7th Ward) added, “This is a hard sell for me.” Referring to residential properties included in the list of properties in the PILOT program, Galloway proposed that residents living in the homes on that list come to council prepared to pay what they owe.
Another PILOT program property is the former St. Agnes School, now called The House of Esther. Councilperson Galloway, using as an example of another PILOT program property that has taken more than 24 months to finalize, pointed out that, “they were supposed to secure funds in 60 days–we’re now at a year. This issue should not go into April. I’m willing to help but we should have swift turn around changes.”
Pastor Derrick Aldridge plans to use building for housing the formerly incarcerated
In an MLive report Pastor Aldridge said that his church hopes to obtain Jefferson School to turn it into housing for women coming out of prison.
Fields asked Trujillo to produce documents of who was paying taxes in various tax years to be presented to the council at their next meeting at 5:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 22.
Pipeline replacement at “about 85 percent,” Rowe Engineering seeks $500,000 more from City
During the Finance Committee meeting Councilperson Mays asked City Administrator Clyde Edwards for a summary of a resolution requesting authorization to pay $500,000 to Rowe Engineering for Phase 6 of the Fast Start lead line replacement. Edwards explained Rowe Engineering is facilitating oversight of the years-long project and is requesting additional funds.
Edwards added as the work continues, funds have “run down,” and that Rowe Engineering representatives have called him “a couple of times” because they are aware that the city is in “the last small percentages of funding and we will be out of money by March.”
Mays asked, “How many pipes have been replaced?” Edwards answered he “guesses” they are about 85 percent completed with the project, adding that it was “a conservative percentage.”
When Mays asked when the project would be finished, Edwards explained that “people keep opting in and that is part of the issue.” According to the City of Flint’s website the water line replacement opt-in deadline has been extended. This extension is explained fully at this link.
“At this point we are getting down to a firm deadline. We are working to get to a hard deadline,” Edwards said.
Mays suggested to Edwards that he’s not hearing enough dialogue with the State.
“We need to ask the State for more money. I will vote to move it to council. But hopefully I can talk to someone from Rowe,” Mays said. Rowe Engineering was not on the line for Wednesday’s meeting.
Councilperson Allan Griggs (8th Ward) chimed in saying, “From my experience in industry that without a clear deadline you are more susceptible to more and more change orders.”
Atmosphere of committee meeting improved, if not without conflict
On the heels of contentious Monday training session for the council on decorum and civility, Council President Fields (4th Ward) asked the council if they wanted to proceed with Parliamentarian Eleanor “Coco” Siewert’s suggestion from Monday’s meeting that the council try to have three or so meetings where they all agree that they not interrupt the flow of the meeting with points of order or points of information.
Councilperson Eric Mays (1st Ward) suggested rather than that format, “to try the Golden Rule to politely and respectfully proceed.” Some back and forth ensued involving Mays and Fields chiefly, then Fields, the acting-chair, was called out of order.
Fields stated that only the chair can call someone out of order. Mays disagreed, reading from the council rules that any council member can call another out of order.
Mays made a point of order and Fields noted that, “now what this is your third point of order [referring to the number of points of order Mays had made already in the meeting].”
Seven residents participated in public speaking. One caller was local activist Arthur Woodson. During his comments he said that Councilperson Kate Fields should resign. Fields then called Woodson out of order and most of the council spoke up in defense of Woodson.
Fields accused Woodson of “going down the trail of veiled threats that we need to resign our offices–you are going down the wrong road.” Councilperson Mays interjected, “It isn’t a threat to ask someone to resign.” Mays suggested that Fields herself was going down the wrong road of not allowing Woodson to make that statement.
Councilperson Eva Worthing (9th Ward) said, “Thank you for calling Arthur Woodson out of order. He is absolutely going down the wrong road. Arthur Woodson should be able to get his point across without asking people to resign, let’s do this right.”
Councilperson Galloway (7th Ward) added, “I’m not even going to waste the time of the attorney [by asking]. It’s not an attack if someone says ‘you need to resign.’ We are stepping on the amendment of having free speech. This is unfair. This is unjust.”
Speaking to her council colleagues, Galloway added, “If you vote for this ruling you are voting against the constitution. This is an overreach.”
Councilperson Herb Winfrey (6th Ward) said, “I wouldn’t want to hear someone say, ‘Councilman Winfrey needs to resign.’ But they have the right to say that. It’s not an attack. The public has the right to say, Winfrey you need to resign. Then I decide if I should resign.
“This is not going down the road of attacking. It’s their right. We should not limit what they say. As long as they’re not calling us names and not threatening us,” Winfrey said.
Brought to a vote whether or not Fields’ ruling of calling Woodson out of order, six council members voted against her ruling only Fields and Worthing voted in favor of calling Woodson out of order. Councilperson Santino Guerra (3rd Ward) had not yet joined the meeting.
Public speaker Gina Luster called in to say, “This is Black History Month and listening to the training and [Councilperson] Worthing said she’s tired of hearing about race. This council has to be very careful. We’ve just seen our democracy and constitution taken away before our eyes with the mess in Washington. We have to do better. Stop fighting. Take care of the business.”
Councilperson Jerri Winfrey-Carter (5th Ward), speaking about the council’s decorum and civil discourse, concluded, “It’s not about council rules, not about Robert’s Rules, it’s about the Golden Rule, respecting each other.”
EVM Managing Editor Tom Travis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.