By Paul Rozycki
Last Monday, the new members of the Flint City Council were sworn in at City Hall, with much ceremony and celebration. Family, friends, and supporters attended and congratulated the new council members on their election victories, and their new positions. Later that evening the new council was expected to meet and choose its leaders for the year to come.
Except it didn’t happen. In fact, the swearing in shouldn’t have happened at that time as well. According to the current city charter, adopted in 2018, the new council members were to be sworn in on the Monday following the certification of the election, which had not taken place.
Under the old city charter it was common to swear in the new council members on the Monday after the election, but the new charter changed that, and put it in line with state law, requiring the formal certification of the election by the board of canvassers. The board of canvassers is a local body, composed of two Republicans and two Democrats, chosen to oversee the final election process and formally certify the results of an election. They have 12 days after the election to complete the process.
Since the vote wasn’t certified by Monday, Nov. 8, the council couldn’t formally take office, the celebratory swearing-in was pointless, and the scheduled evening council meeting has to be cancelled. Flint again looked foolish, and seemed like it couldn’t walk and chew gum at the same time.
At this writing, the election has now been certified and the council is scheduled to meet on Monday, Nov. 22 to begin its new term and select its leadership.
Ineligible member of board of canvassers
As if the problems with voter certification weren’t enough, it was discovered that one member of the board of canvassers was ineligible to serve because she was an elected official, serving on the Mt. Morris school board. She finally did resign, and the other members voted 3-0 to certify the election.
If those events were single, isolated, happenings, they might be a quirky story that fit the “A funny thing happened on way to the city council election” mold, and simply be an unusual, and perhaps, amusing election story.
Except those weren’t isolated, unique, quirky, Flint election stories. They’ve become all too common in Flint and Genesee County.
Other election problems
The same city where council members were sworn in before the votes were certified, has more than a little history of government fumbling and mismanagement.
In 2015, all the candidates, except one, who planned to run for mayor were facing the prospect of being left off the ballot and running write-in campaigns because they were given the wrong date to turn in their petitions. Eric Mays was the only candidate who turned in his petition early and all the other candidates, including the incumbent mayor, Dayne Walling, were late because they were given an inaccurate date. In the end, the state legislature passed a special law to allow the election to go ahead with all the candidates, in spite of the clerical error.
However, while Flint may have been the first, it wasn’t alone in missing deadlines. In 2017, four communities, Sault St. Marie, Tecumseh, Bessemer, and Lake Angelus, made similar mistakes, and needed state legislation to clear up the problem. Parts of those bills required additional training for local clerks.
In 2019, it took a lawsuit in Genesee County Circuit Court Judge Farah’s courtroom, to place four candidates on the ballot after errors were discovered in their petitions.
Even those election foul-ups might not be so bad if it weren’t for the endless examples of disorganized and dysfunctional government in Flint and Genesee County.
City Council conflicts
We know all too well of the Flint City Council’s marathon meetings that go into the early morning hours, with little to show for the effort.
We all know of the contentious bickering that has become part and parcel of the Flint City Council meetings, where members are silenced, denounced as racists, or led out in handcuffs.
We all know of the lawsuits challenging the mayor and the council to live within the bounds of the new city charter, which has often been ignored in the chaos of the council.
We all know of missed deadlines where budgets were just barely approved in time.
We all know that recent council meetings have ended for lack of a quorum, with little business being done as council member left the virtual Zoom meetings out of frustration or exhaustion.
All of these, and more, have made Flint city government the poster child for disorganized, ineffective, and divided government.
Genesee County problems
But the Genesee County government is not off the hook. As Genesee County Clerk John Gleason said in Tom Travis’ East Village story, “We all have to do better. Both the city and county messed up.” The County Board of Commissioners should have been aware that one of the members of the board of canvasser was an elected official and ineligible to serve. This is even more critical when there is so much distrust over the integrity of elections.
Over the years there has been much friction between the city and the county, and between some county officials and some city officials.
We’re in the same boat
But in the final analysis the problems of Flint and Genesee County are all too similar. The success of one will reflect on the other and the failure of one will also reflect on the other. Flint Township may change its name, but it will still be side-by-side with the City of Flint, and won’t be able to escape the problems the city faces.
Unfortunately those urban/suburban/rural divides have become much sharper in recent years, reflecting partisan, economic and racial divisions. We’ve seen that when a county and city can work together, even with some difficulties, that both can be better off. As with Pontiac and Oakland County, it’s not always easy, but it’s better than endless bickering and division.
Beyond the certification problems
This year’s election certification foul-ups were easily and quickly solved within a few days. But they were a sign of a larger problem. The problem of governmental competence and distrust in those we elect will take much longer to resolve.
Let’s hope that the new Flint City Council, with its six new members, will be able to work together in a civil manner and begin the process of proving that “We all have to do better.” Let’s also hope that the same spirit will motivate Genesee County officials to do the same.
If we don’t find a way to restore confidence in both the City of Flint and Genesee County, an ill-timed city council swearing in will be the least of our problems.
EVM political commentator Paul Rozycki can be reached at email@example.com.