By Tom Travis
Themes of love, unity, strength and hope flowed through the remarks at Mayor Sheldon Neeley’s second swearing-in ceremony Monday with familiar faces of politicians, community leaders, city officials, activists and city residents. Longtime local news anchor and friend of Neeley, Bill Harris, was emcee for the ceremony that lasted just under an hour.
After taking the oath of office, Mayor Neeley said, “I look forward to the opportunity to do wonderful work for this wonderful city.”
The Flint city council sat in their seats immediately behind the Mayor as he spoke from a podium. Naming each council member, Neeley pledged to work with the city council. Throughout Neeley’s administration and two different city councils, their relationship has been contentious at times. Noticeably absent from his council seat was Eric Mays (Ward 1). EVM spoke with Mays after the ceremony and Mays said that his not being in the room was a kind of “silent protest” to Neeley and his administration.
“This is much more than I or me — it’s about us moving together for a greater goal”
Neeley noted as mayor he aims to continue “critical partnerships” with city, county, state, federal and philanthropic partners.
“History teaches us that unity is strength and cautions us to not fall victim to divide,” he said. “If you understand who benefits from divide you understand your true enemy.”
Neeley described his last three years of service as mayor as working towards unity at all levels.
“This is much more than I or me — it’s about us moving together for a greater goal. Twenty or thirty years from now we’re going to look back at the work we have accomplished today and understand the rebirth of the city of Flint happened here: the idea of unity, standing together, fighting together and winning together.”
“We’re more than victims we are victors”
“When we travel all across the country and tell people we’re from Flint, Michigan they respond, ‘Oh my god.’ But we are much more than victims,” Neeley said. “We are victors. Each one of you have to be an ambassador of hope and strength and rebranding and the reworking of our community. The way that the nation looks at us is important to attract new families, businesses and corporations,.”
Neeley thanked Flint Police Chief Terrence Green, who was seated with several other officers including Detective Sgt. Tyrone Booth. Neeley noted the ongoing partnerships between the Flint Police Department and local law enforcement agencies including the Genesee County Sheriff’s department and the Michigan State Police touting that homicides are down 40 per cent.
Also in the audience was former Mayor Dayne Walling. Neeley thanked Walling for being in the audience and for his partnership and advice.
“We have to plant the seeds of hope further down with our children, letting them understand about how to de-escalate issues,. w=We have to do so in our faith-based communities, education communities and in our common areas of influence. Wherever you are, we need your strength,” Neeley said.
Artistic additions to City Hall, a history lesson
Neeley noted “artistic additions” to City Hall including the statue on the lawn of city hall of Flint’s first Black Mayor Floyd McCree and the busts of six of “great women” in the lobby. Neeley stated these people had extended “the olive branch, and I intend to do the same.”
He said he added these pieces of art because he wanted coming to city hall to be more than just trying to resolve a problem or paying a water bill — he said he wanted coming to city hall to be a history lesson.
“The first challenge to overcome is working together and we will overcome that” – Neeley to City Council
“To my council colleagues in a co-equal branch of government,” Neeleey said, “We will work together using our American Recuse Plan dollars, $94.7 million.” He pointed out that 32 per cent has already been allocated for demolition, law enforcement and economic development.
“I sat as a council person for nine years so i understand the challenges of that job,” Neeley recalled. “The first challenge to overcome is working together and we will overcome that. I will make sure that I will fulfill the needs of them so they can fulfill the needs of our community. He referenced significant news in the last year including the State of Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to invest $30.2 million in establishing a state park along much of the Flint River. The park is envisioned to encompass 230 acres stretching approximately 3 miles east to west and more than 1.5 miles north to south.
Neeley also celebrated the recent announcement that Michigan’s largest brownfield, the former Buick City, would be redeveloped by Ashley Capital that plans to develop a state-of-the-art industrial park expected to bring about 3,000 jobs to the City of Flint — jobs paying upwards of $17 per hour. Ashley Capital plans to invest about $300 million in the site, pending a period of due diligence that ends in early 2023. Neeley noted the city has a “concierge service” for business partners wanting to do business in Flint. The service will take business partners through all the steps to completing their goal of doing business in Flint. The concierge service is available through the city’s economic development office.
Judge Guinn, recording artist, , godmother and local pastors participate in ceremony
The oath of office was administered by 67th District Court Judge David Guinn. Guinn had administered the oath at the Mayor’s first swearing-in as well. The U.S. Flag was carried in by a Flint Police officer. Wearing white gloves, he placed the flag in a stand and the audience was invited to recite in unison the Pledge of Allegiance. Following that, Mayor Neeley, his wife (State Representative) Cynthia Neeley, a family friend and godmother Sharon Riley and the Neeley’s daughter, Taylor, walked up the center aisle. The audience stood and applauded as the mayor and family took their seats.
Rhonda Clark, R&B recording artist, sang the hymn His Eye Is on the Sparrow. “Words of Encouragement” were shared by family friend and Mayor Neeley’s godmother Sharon Riley. At least two times Mayor Neeley was choked up with emotion while recalling that this past year was “a tough year.” Neeley’s mother passed away this year and the mayor mentioned that this was the first election in his long political career without his mother being present.
Riley’s ‘words of encouragement’ included: “The world is lacking love. God is love and he is the encourager. We need unity. The Bible says that if we’re not unified there is destruction. Love is caring, kind, giving, genuine. If you have not love you profit God nothing. The real test is that we love the unlovable not just love ourselves.”
Mayor Neeley’s pastor, Rev. Daniel Moore of Shiloh Baptist Church, offered the invocation and the closing prayer was offered by Pastor Monica Villareal of Salem Evangelical Lutheran Church.
Quoting the Rev. Dr. James Cone, Villareal said, “To sing about freedom and pray for its coming is not enough. Freedom must be actualized in history by oppressed peoples who accept the intellectual challenge to analyze the world for the purpose of changing it.”
She added, “As a community we are still reeling from the Flint Water Crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic. Our collective history has illuminated many of the racial disparities that have existed prior to COVID-19 and we must wrestle with the impact of racism within our city and to adopt policies and support programs that advance equity thus it is at a critical moment in history. The ARPA funds are Flint’s moment to make real change — not just saying and praying about freedom but to act upon freedom and equity. This city has been bound by the mindset of what we do not have for too long. It is time my friends that we have vision. It is time that we dream and it is time that we analyze the world for the purpose of changing it the word that we commemorate today – love. Love changes the world.”
Villareal then invited the audience to raise a hand towards Mayor Neeley as she offered a blessing upon him.
Young political hopeful attends Mayor’s swearing-in
One of the younger audience members was Jalen Taylor, accompanied by his mother Grace Taylor. Grace told EVM it was important to bring Jalen to today’s ceremony because Jalen is interested in politics and she wants him to see how government works. Grace said that Jalen had an opportunity to meet the mayor.
EVM Managing Editor Tom Travis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.