“We have chaos in the chamber” – Council Vice-President Ladel Lewis struggles to keep order in Monday’s boisterous meeting

By Tom Travis

The City Council meeting spiraled into a chaotic abyss on Monday night. The special affairs committee began at 4:30 p.m. and ended at 9:30 p.m. after five hours of mostly arguing and bickering amongst the council. Additionally, there was a group of vocal members of the public that spoke during public speaking and shouted out at other times during the meeting.

The council is temporarily meeting in the Genesee County Commissioners board room, across the street from City Hall, during council chamber renovations. The renovations are expected to be complete later this summer. The county has limited the council’s use of the Commissioners’ board room until 9:30 p.m.  The Special Affairs committee concluded at 9:30 p.m. because of that stipulation.

A video recording of the meeting is available here.

City Attorney William Kim (left), Special Affairs Chairperson and Council Vice-President Ladel Lewis (Ward 2 – center) and City Clerk Davina Donohue (right) in Monday’s city council meeting held in the Genesee County Commissioners board room during city hall renovations. (Photo by Tom Travis)

According to City Clerk Davina Donohue, Monday’s meeting will not be rescheduled. She explained that all agenda items will be on the next Council Committee meeting Wednesday, May 17 in the Dome Auditorium. The next regular City Council meeting will be Monday, May 22 back in the County Commissioners Board Room.

Genesee County building in downtown; the temporary location of city council meetings during renovations. (Photo by Tom Travis)

In Monday’s meeting there were about 50 audience members made up of local residents, city administration staff and members of the press. Tensions grew throughout the evening between council members over various issues including: parliamentary matters, an altercation between Councilpersons Eva Worthing (Ward 9) and Tonya Burns (Ward 6) in last Wednesday’s meeting and a resolution brought by Councilperson Eric Mays (Ward 1) calling for $200,000 in assistance for residents’ damage claims from raw sewage back up in basements. Councilperson Burns told EVM that she has attended several block/neighborhood meetings and estimates there to be over 30 homes in Flint with raw sewage in them. The sewage back-up was caused by a failure of pump station #5 during a recent deluge.

As the evening went on the meeting became more heated. Additional officers arrived including Genesee County Sheriff’s department officers and the regularly assigned Flint Police Officer,  William Metcalfe. At times Officer Metcalfe went up to audience members to tell them they weren’t allowed to speak out from their seats.

Last Wednesday’s altercation between Worthing and Burns

The tension in Monday’s meeting was, in part, left over energy from an altercation in last Wednesday’s meeting between Councilpersons Eva Worthing and Tonya Burns. Towards the end of that meeting during discussion of a resolution, Worthing and Burns had words with each other and began to banter back and forth.

At one point, Worthing stood up from her seat, approached Burns, who remain seated, and stood over Burns. Both were yelling, pointing their fingers and waving their arms at each other until Worthing walked out of the meeting.

In Monday’s meeting, Councilperson Jerri Winfrey-Carter, referring to Wednesday’s altercation, suggested she wanted to make a motion to have Worthing censured; the motion was never made.

Councilperson Burns told EVM at an in-person interview:

[Worthing] has taken pictures of me and I’ve listed them on Facebook. She actually took pictures of me during the meeting and posted them. She is, to me, a Carolyn Bryant [Carolyn Bryant is a white woman who accused Emmet Till, a Black man, in 1955, of whistling at her. Till was beaten, shot and thrown into a river by Bryant’s family. Bryant died at the age of 88 in April 2023. More about that story can be read here.]

“When racist white people lie, black people die. I’ve tried talking to her [Worthing] I’ve tried. I generally ignore her. She needs therapy, that’s not my issue. I was calm. I didn’t get out of my seat because I know if I had it would have been, there’s a problem black woman. But no matter, I stayed seated.”

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Councilperson Eva Worthing told EVM by email:

“It saddens me that there are members of council who are so angry that they do not have the votes for their personal agendas that they rely on tactics to intimidate others on council to resign. I ran for council to do the work of the city of Flint and they prevented that from happening on Monday.
“I want to feel safe at council meetings and I want to focus on getting work done. At the same time, I cannot allow anyone to threaten and intimidate me in a public meeting. I was elected by the citizens of the 9th Ward and they are trying to silence not just my voice but my constituents as well. The residents of Flint deserve better.”

Chaos and arguing spills over into lobby during Monday’s meeting

While C0uncil Vice-President Ladel Lewis (Ward 2) attempted to retain order and move through the agenda, chaos erupted at times. Some eruptions came from a boisterous public audience and at other times from the council members themselves. At one point, an argument between city employee Ed Taylor and local activist Art Woodson escalated to the point that the council meeting stopped. Their argument spilled over into the lobby of the board room and audience members poured into the lobby. It was unclear to this reporter what the two were arguing about.

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Around 6:45 p.m. chaos broke out with hollering and arguing among councilmembers and audience members. Council President Allie Herkenroder collected her laptop, put on her coat and left the meeting. Eventually Councilpersons Judy Priestley (Ward 4) and Eva Worthing (Ward 9) left the meeting. Priestley returned some time later, wearing different clothes.

Mayor Neeley chastises council for “no action” and “paralyzing behavior”

On Tuesday Mayor Sheldon Neeley said in a press release, “Last night’s Flint City Council Special Affairs meeting ended at 9:30 p.m. with no action on city business, including contracts for police and firefighters. This means that police and fire personnel are still waiting on raises that have been successfully negotiated by their unions and the city administration.

According to the resolution the tentative agreement provides for a new wage scale for Firefighters, Trainees and drivers and a three percent increase for other positions. In addition to the three percent increase, the resolution calls for a bonus of $3,500 or $5,500, depending on seniority. The increases will take place July 1, 2024 and again on July 1, 2025.

The press release continued, “This is very disappointing for both police and fire staff who have been working diligently with the promise of pay increases,” Flint Fire Chief Theron Wiggins said. When agreed upon changes are delayed, it jeopardizes our credibility with our valued labor unions and can impact our ability to attract an retain staff. This has real consequences for our first responders.”

Mayor calls out Councilperson Burns

In his press release,  Neeley called out Councilperson Tonya Burns (Ward 6) by name, saying, “Paralyzing behavior, often led by councilperson Tonya Burns, resulted in the breakdown of last night’s meeting.” Neeley was the council person for Ward 6 from 2005 to 2014.

Councilperson Tonya Burns (Ward 6). (Photo by Tom Travis)

“As public servants, city councilmembers are tasked with delivering on negotiated contracts for deserving and hardworking public safety employees. We appreciate the partnership of several councilmembers. But others have lent their efforts to disrupting essential city  business to the point of holding the city hostage,” ” Flint City Administrator Clyde Edwards said.

Burns reacts to Neeley’s press release

“My focus will continue to be the sixth ward residents and the residents of the city of Flint.  I’m committed to working for the residents and examples are more reckless driving orange that was introduced me getting cheers market close may getting the red light district home close. my focus is not to deal with the unnecessary politics or politricks antics. We have a mayor that’s divisive, that’s not willing to work with all of the council. It’s purely on him. It was an inflammatory slanderous statement and there’s the leader he should have known better. That’s not something you do.”

EVM Managing Editor Tom Travis can be reached at tomntravis@gmail.com.

Author: Tom Travis

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