By Tom Travis
Beleaguered for 11 hours, the city council verbally wrestled with each other in Monday night’s meeting discussing the topics: “respect, decorum, and censure.” Members of the public, council members and the chair of the Ethics and Accountability Board (EAB) lectured the officials on their behavior and lack of completing “city business.”
“Repeated lack of decorum and violations of the Charter” – Council Vice President Herkenroder
It began early on during the Special Affairs Committee, chaired by Council Vice President Allie Herkenroder (Ward 7). Announcing, “I bring this discussion item pertaining to the repeated lack of decorum and violations of the Flint City Charter [section 3.104] in the council chamber and the appropriate corrective actions specifically in regard to discussion of a censure of the Flint City Council.”
“We have to show respect” – Councilperson Judy Priestley (Ward 4)
Councilperson Judy Priestley (Ward 4) continued, “Our meeting two weeks ago was absolutely out of control. [Referring to Council President Eric Mays] berating our City Clerk [Inez Brown], City Administrator [Clyde Edwards], members of our council. We have to show respect to our members and as well as to the staff and the public. We’re an elected body and people look up to us — although I sometimes wonder why.
“We have to show a level of courtesy to each other,” Priestley said. “From the time the meeting began there was a lack of decorum. I could hear in the hallway our City Attorney [William Kim is acting city attorney upon the departure of Angela Wheeler last month.] being berated and I felt that was inappropriate and it continued and it escalated throughout the meeting.
“And I had hoped that behavior would not occur when I voted to seat our President [Council President Eric Mays (Ward 1)] unfortunately I was wrong.”
Herkenroder said she requested this discussion item due to the repeated behavior, “that we as the council and you as the public have had to endure over the past several months. I know specifically for me being insulted to my face because I was told I wasn’t smart because I was young.
“It is particularly disrespectful not only to me but also to this office and the residents of the Seventh Ward,” Herkenroder continued. “This is not something I take lightly and I believe we owe it to ourselves and we owe it to our community and we owe it to the future of Flint to be able to bring decorum back into this office. And be able to support and move the city forward together.”
Near 8 p.m. Council President Eric Mays (Ward 1) called the city council meeting to order. After the council wrestled with changes to the agenda and established the agenda for the evening’s meetings the discussion eventually came back to “respect” and “decorum.”
“We do see a pattern” – EAB Chair Allen Gilbert
Councilperson Dennis Pfeiffer (Ward 8) called Ethics and Accountability Board (EAB) chair Allen Gilbert to the podium to ask him how the EAB defines “censure.” Gilbert said, “It has to fall within the council’s rules.” Gilbert explained that the EAB does not have authority to come to the council and say, “you have to do this and you have to do that, we do not have that authority. We can make a recommendation and suggestions when we see a pattern. And we do see a pattern”.”
“When you don’t show proper decorum and when you’re not respectful of each other – is that a violation of the charter? [waiting for a response from councilmembers he continues] I don’t hear anybody. Misconduct is a big window when you’re an elected official. And according to the charter that is misconduct when you do not take care of the people’s business that you were elected to do.”
“When you have vigorous engagement, debate and vigorous discussion, we applaud that, we want that. Because you are not elected to be robots you are elected to represent the city. And that’s exactly what you should do but you should do that on the basis to disrespect your colleagues in anyway. Even the administration, even if you disagree with them. There’s a way to protest. You protest from your chair. And you go by the rules.”
Gilbert added, “There are some things that Councilperson Mays has done that I flat out disagree with. Let’s get that clear. But remember what the EAB’s job is to do: Number one we have to be fair, number two we have to be impartial, and number three we must be just. But that is for the board to decide. I made the recommendation to the EAB to come before you and the board supported that recommendation.”
“Appalled by your lack of respect” Seventh Ward resident
Seventh Ward Flint resident Jan Marie Arbor, directly addressing Council President Mays, began, “Mr. Mays, speaking on behalf of many members of the City of Flint I am appalled by your lack of respect shown towards fellow members who serve on this council, administrative staff.
“By showing disrespect to your colleagues you’re also showing disrespect to the public. You’re very skillful at manipulating your words so that the truth turns into a lie. We all have opportunity to look at video of things you’ve said and how coarse your language has been as you have spoken to your fellow constituents and our city clerk.”
“Cowards look away”
Arbor, agreeing with other councilmembers who brought up a council meeting two weeks ago, said Mays was, “horribly disrespectful to City Clerk Inez Brown. You even said to her that you would have her removed from this facility. That was reprehensible and you can continue to look away from me if you like. Cowards look away, Mr. Mays.”
While Arbor was addressing Mays he was glancing down at his phone.
Mays then spoke up, telling Arbor her time was up.
Arbor interjected, “Don’t interrupt me.” Mays and Arbor spoke over each other for a moment. Finally Mays informed Arbor he was giving her a “first warning.”
Arbor said, “You’re a bully, you’re a bully, you’re a bully, you are a bully, Mr. Mays. When you don’t get what you want, you bully people and it needs to stop.”
Mays said, “You’re out of order.” Arbor said, “So are you.” Officer Metcalfe came up to Arbor and had her return to her seat.
Deputy City Clerk Davina Donohue then informed Mays that Arbor had 23 seconds left in her public speaking time. Mays disagreed and said her time was up, adding, “I’m chairing this meeting. I ain’t gotta argue with her or anybody else.”
Councilpersons protested Mays’ ruling of calling the public speaker out of order, including Councilperson Tonya Burns who defended the public speaker. “This is her city council chamber. She has the right to come in here and say what she wants to say,” Burns said.
Mays attempts to defend himself
Mays then called attention to the fact that all the council meetings are recorded. He said he views the recordings at home because he said he “misses” things said when he gets up from his seat to use the restroom or other business. Mays said that he hears disrespect towards him being stated on the videos when he’s out of his seat during council meetings. Mays continued to speak for 25 minutes.
Additionally, Mays stated he didn’t think “the decorum was good the other day when Ms. Worthing was talking to the Pastor” [Pastor Bernard Drew representing the North Flint Food Market]. Mays went on to explain in the meeting two weeks ago, that several council members were calling into question, the tussle he had with City Clerk Inez Brown sitting on his left and City Attorney William Kim sitting on his right was frustrating.
In a discussion in that meeting Mays was asking Brown “to post a meeting” he wanted to call in the upcoming days. According to the city charter, the city clerk is responsible for posting, or notifying the public, of city council meetings.
Mays explained, “Ms. Brown has been posting meetings for 20, 30 years.” Mays said Brown stated she needed a legal opinion before she could post the meeting and Mays disagreed. Mays said, “You can view the tape.”
“We need to deal with the elephant in the room” – Councilperson Quincy Murphy (Ward 3)
Councilperson Quincy Murphy (Ward 3) said, “We need to deal with the “elephant in the room and the elephant in the room is that we got a council president who is bullying some of us. It’s been way past due for us to deal with this situation.”
Councilperson Jerri Winfrey-Carter (Ward 5)
Councilperson Jerri Winfrey-Carter suggested that the council not only censure the council president but also the Third Ward council member, Murphy. Turning in her seat to address Councilperson Murphy (Ward 3) she said, “You know what? You keep up a lot of the commotion too. Now let’s be fair. If we want to talk about professional decorum, let’s talk about professional decorum. A lot of times instead of arguing back and forth you just sit here and be quiet. We don’t have to go back and forth fighting.”
“It is very difficult to be continually bullied and harassed” – Councilperson Eva Worthing (Ward 9)
Councilperson Eva Worthing chimed in, “It is very difficult to be continually bullied and harassed. It’s hard to maintain calm. So if someone reacts it’s not surprising especially if it’s repeated over and over … It’s workplace harassment not only for the council but for our city attorney, our city clerk basically anyone that says something our council president doesn’t like the wrath…” Worthing was cut off by Mays making a “point of order.”
“Censure one, censure all but I’m gonna say censure none” – Councilperson Dennis Pfeiffer (Ward 8)
Councilperson Dennis Pfeiffer began his comments by saying that he “somewhat agreed with” Councilperson Winfrey-Carter, adding “but I don’t want anyone to be censured.” I want to get the city business done. I want proper decorum. No one is always going to get along.”
Pfeiffer was the first council member to bring up a closed session meeting held earlier in the evening stating, “What happened to me in that closed session, that person should be censured.” Pfeiffer suggested that all the council members and the city clerk and city attorney and deputy city clerk should all be censured. “Censure one, censure all but I’m gonna say censure none.”
By rule, closed or executive sessions of the council are not recorded and the details of those meetings are discussed only behind closed doors. In fact, the charter states legal action can be taken if closed session details are revealed outside of the closed meeting.
The Special Affairs Committee continued for three hours, ending at 7:30 p.m. Near the end of the meeting Councilperson Mays (Ward 1) said to Councilperson Herkenroder (Ward 7), “You’re full of mess.” Herkenroder did not hear Mays and asked him to repeat what he said. Mays turned to face Herkenroder and repeated what he had said. Herkenroder called Mays out of order and gave him his first warning.
The Special Affairs Committee adjourned and there was a brief break. The Special Affairs Committee is designed to be a relatively short meeting, ideally one-hour long. In recent months these committee meetings have been four and five hours long and usually ending with a weary and embattled council.
EVM Managing Editor Tom Travis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.