Budget hearings conclude; council chaos continues with loud racial accusations

By Tom Travis

This article has been updated with information of a budget hearing call back set for 5:30 p.m. Thursday, May 18. The Water Pollution Control department and the Purchasing/Finance department budget hearing will be held in the Genesee County Administration building on the third floor.

The city council concluded the final scheduled budget hearing on Monday night after a month of four different hearings that covered all of the city departments’ budgets. Monday’s meeting was not without dramatic moments that have become typical of Flint’s top governing body of elected officials. About an hour and a half into the meeting Eric Mays (Ward 1) was ousted from the meeting by Finance Chair Judy Priestley. Soon after Mays’ exit Councilperson Tonya Burns (Ward 6) exited the meeting in protest.

Finance Chair Priestley plans on budget amendments

After last night’s budget hearing Finance Committee Chair Judy Priestley (Ward 4) told EVM, “I tried to have the budget hearings in two Saturdays with the possibility of callbacks but there was too much push back from the council and city’s administration.” Priestley said she’ll be talking to the city clerk about call backs for certain departments.

Councilperson Judy Priestley (Ward 4). (Photo by Tom Travis)

Priestley told EVM she has amendments to the budget she will propose but is not ready to talk about them. “I do have the numbers and I know where they’re coming from and where they’re going,” Priestley said.

According to the city’s charter city council has to approve the budget by the first Monday in June. That leaves only two weeks to have budget hearing call back meetings. That call back schedule is yet to be determined. Priestley said the council has not had the chance to speak to officials from the Wastewater Treatment department and the Purchasing Department.

The proposed city budget can be viewed at the city’s website or here.

The series of budget hearings were not called “meetings” but rather “hearings.” City Clerk Davina Donohue explained that quorum is not required for a hearing to take place. During hearings the council does not take action nor make motions, according to Donohue. The hearings do fall under the Michigan Open Meetings Act and must be open to the public. A recording of each budget hearing is available at the city council’s Youtube link 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 (May 8, 2023) city council meeting held in the Genesee County Commissioners board room during city hall renovations. (Photo by Tom Travis)

City’s budget is an increase of $13 million from 2023 budget

The 2024 proposed budget of $63 million reflects an increase of more than $9 million from the 2022 budget and a $13 million increase from the 2023 budget.

Mayor Sheldon Neeley, March 2023. (Photo by Tom Travis)

Mayor Sheldon Neeley presented the budget to council in March. At that March meeting Neeley explained the budget priorities were to enhance public safety and city services, keep property tax rates unchanged, to meet Flint’s pension system obligations, and to keep fees and utility costs unchanged.

Continued council chaos

In Monday’s  hearing,  while Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Jane Mager and Arnold Brown, the city’s blight director , were about to begin their time,  Mays asked the budget hearing chair, Priestley, acting in her role as finance committee chair, why she was treating him and Councilperson Tonya Burns differently than Councilperson Eva Worthing.

As the voices quickly escalated to yelling, Priestley gave Mays a warning, and yelled over Mays’ protests of the chair, to Blight Director Brown  that he had the floor.

Eventually, Mays left the council meeting followed by Officer William Metcalfe, Mays continued yelling and protesting, what he alleges, is “different treatment between the black folks and white folks” on council, among other things. While Mays was protesting, Councilperson Tonya Burns (Ward 6) erupted from her seat protesting similar allegations of different treatment based on race by Priestley, the finance committee chair running the hearing.

Brown was able to speak once Mays and Burns left the meeting.

City of Flint Police Officer William Metcalfe (left) walking with Councilperson Eric Mays (center with ball cap) as he left the meeting. Councilpersons Eva Worthing (far right) filming the meeting with her phone. Councilperson Tony Burns (seated, center) and Finance Committee Chair Judy Priestley (seated in front of the American flag). (Photo by Tom Travis)

As Mays exited the room Councilperson Eva Worthing (Ward 9) began filming the incident with her phone. Worthing stood and put her back against the wall and filmed. Burns then took her phone and announced, “oh, she’s Facebooking live? Well I can too.” Burns took out her phone and filmed Worthing filming her.

Councilperson Eva Worthing (in blue, far right), Officer Metcalfe, Councilperson Tony Burns (left) video technician Paul Herring (far left). (Photo by Tom Travis)

Burns continued to protest.  Both Mays and Burns protested to Priestley that she continually calls her and Mays out of order but never calls Worthing out of order. It was unclear for what reason Burns and Mays wanted Worthing to be called out of order. Burns stood and gathered her belongings.

A video of Mays’ and Burns’ exit from the meeting can be viewed at this Youtube link. 1:35:11

As Councilperson Burns left the chamber, walking directly behind Councilperson Worthing, she turned towards Worthing and said, “Goodbye Carolyn Bryant.” Carolyn Bryant is the white woman who in 1955 in Mississippi accused a black teenager visiting from Chicago,  Emmet Till, of whistling at her. Some men in Bryant’s family found Till later that evening and beat him, shot him and threw him into a river for dead.  Bryant recently died.

The next scheduled council meeting is Council Committees on Wednesday, May 17 at 5 p.m.

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

Author: Tom Travis

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