By Tom Travis
It took the city council finance committee eight hours Wednesday evening to tussle their way through a contentious meeting. The agenda contained 10 resolutions to be discussed, but the council spent most of the eight hours discussing, arguing and battling through two resolutions in particular.
One resolution concerned setting a date for a public hearing for residents’ input on the rules that govern the city council. The other was a resolution to allocate $600,000 of the city’s $94 million federal ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) stimulus funds to the North Flint Food Market (NFFM). The discussion of the NFFM was a carry-over from last week’s city council meeting and details from that meeting are noted at the end of this article.
Rules to govern city council meetings
The city council has had plans for years, since 2017, to overhaul the set of rules established to conduct their meetings. The council rules are largely based on a national standard set of rules for local governing bodies. Each governing body throughout the country tweak the rules to their own liking.
Those rules, once established, would be the “holy grail” from which the council meetings will operate. But in Wednesday’s meeting even members of the city council themselves were confused about which set of rules they were to follow. Various versions of council rules have been floating about for years.
Council President Eric Mays (Ward 1), who often almost affectionately refers to the council rules as “these goofy rules,” spoke up. Mays held up a green folder containing a 2017 draft version and asked the council, “Aren’t these the rules we follow?”
Both Councilpersons Tonya Burns (Ward 6) and Allie Herkenroder (Ward 7) said, “no.” Councilperson Judy Priestley explained that the set of rules in the green folder were never approved by council.
Herkenroder explained that the rules to be discussed and the ones the council presently adheres to are listed in the agenda packet.
That set of rules can be viewed here on pages 5 to 24 on the agenda.
The council ultimately voted, 7 to 2, to set a date for a public hearing on rules governing the city council to remain on the finance committee agenda for two weeks.
It’s “more white” in your ward
Mays contended that the council treats projects differently that come before council based on where a project is located in town. He motioned towards Councilperson Dennis Pfeiffer (Ward 8) and said Pfeiffer’s ward, in the south end of Flint, was more “white” than his ward (Ward 1) on the north end.
Mays added, by example, the NFFM is more heavily “scrutinized” and “screened” by council as to the very same issues that were being raised for a $300,000 change order on a Miller Road reconstruction project [in Pfeiffer’s south Flint Ward 8] scheduled for next year.
Mays admitted he planned on voting to approve the change order but made the point that he believes different projects in different parts of town are treated differently by council.
Mays added he’s not scared to talk “frank.”
$600,000 for North Flint Food Market council votes for it to stay in committee
Initially Councilperson Eva Worthing (Ward 9) made a motion to have the resolution dropped. In last week’s council meeting Worthing had a heated exchange with a representative from the NFFM, Pastor Bernard Drew.
Worthing explained the reason she made a motion to drop the resolution is because, “we are still holding our ward ARPA meetings. Also, the process for businesses and non-profits will be that they will apply and then they’re all considered at one time.
“I think it would open up the city for litigation if we just start bringing in resolutions on our own without having a proper process in place,” Worthing said. “I would like to prevent the city from having to spend money on that. It’s just not fair to other businesses and non-profits that want to apply.”
Councilperson Herkenroder (Ward 7) added, “It is fiscally irresponsible for us to piecemeal resolution after resolution and spend this money like it’s $94 and not $94 million. We owe it to ourselves, we owe it to the city and we owe it to our constituents to have a full plan before we start voting for anything related to ARPA.”
Councilperson Pfeiffer (Ward 8) said, “I want to caution my colleagues that say they’re not going to vote for any ARPA dollars until there’s a, we’ll call it, a ‘master plan.’ I think that’s reckless and let me tell you why. The administration or any administration isn’t ready to deploy $94 million all at once. It makes sense to do a staggered start.
“It makes sense to approve things as you go and figure stuff out when you have 20 to 30 per cent left of the money,” Pfeiffer contended. “To sit here and say you’re going to ‘die on a hill’ and you’re going to vote no on anything because there’s not a ‘master plan’ you’re just hurting your constituents. There are hurting people in the community but you don’t want to vote on anything until you see every dollar allocated.
“Meanwhile people are suffering. You’re going to vote no on once in a generation money and god bless you with those recall ballots if you vote no on something that your constituents really care about. I really, really would caution people on that,” he said.
“It think there’s people that realize that coming up with a ‘master plan’ and deploying this all at once and making the compliance firm and the administration try to handle $94 million all at once is reckless. I will not be voting to drop this resolution.”
Pastor Bernard Drew explains to council reason for $600,000
In last Monday’s council meeting, with a large assemblage of NFFM members and supporters present, Pastor Bernard Drew, pastor of West Court Street Church of God, said he was there on behalf of Pastor Reginald Flynn who has been the executive director of the North Flint Food Market (NFFM).
Drew explained Flynn had asked him to attend Monday’s council meeting to represent him and the food market leadership. After Drew had spoken briefly, Worthing said to Drew, “I sense hostility.” Audible “moans” were heard from the audience.
Then Worthing contended that Flynn no longer resides in Michigan to which she was quickly interrupted by Drew stating that Flynn is only out of state due to a previously scheduled trip. Councilmember Quincy Murphy spoke up reaffirming Flynn lives in the Third Ward (the ward Murphy represents).
Worthing then asked for audited financial statements the council could examine. Drew responded, “Absolutely.” Drew clarified to Worthing the NFFM financial statements had already been provided to council but he would be glad to provide them again.
Worthing asked, “How much money has been spent on administration fees and salaries?” Drew said, “What we will do is get you those audited financial statements.”
Drew went on to explain the reason for the $600,000. He said the initial cost estimate to open an “effectively run” grocery store was $1 million. “Because of the pandemic, so many prices have gone up which were out of our control.
“Again,” he stated, “our financial statements have been vetted by the State of Michigan and numerous funding institutions [which include The Ruth Mott Foundation, The Community Foundation of Greater Flint and the C.S. Mott Foundation].”
Drew explained that because of the increase of equipment it is estimated to cost $2.5 million to open the store. The funding institutions have agreed to bridge the gap, he stated.
Referring to some of the representatives of the community seated behind him, Drew said the community has “taken their own initiative to change their own city-scape.” adding, “any vote outside that is an indication that that council person does not share that belief.”
Worthing responded, “Wow.”
Drew contacted Flynn by cell phone while at the podium at Monday’s meeting. Flynn was allowed to address the council through his cell phone. Drew held the cell phone speaker to the microphone and Flynn addressed the council.
Flynn clarified that he lives in the Third Ward and pastors in Flint. Flynn explained that the North Flint Food Market is a $7 million project funded from “multiple sources.”
Flynn said for the project to have moved forward, financial statements had to be provided to the federal government (USDA), the state of Michigan as well as to the local funding institutions. Flynn explained at this point there is one employee, the store’s general manager.
EVM Managing Editor Tom Travis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.