Commentary: Allie Herkenroder’s words speak to all of us

By Paul Rozycki

 “I consider the abuse from council directly (related) to my mental and physical concerns.”

Seventh Ward Councilwoman Allie Herkenroder, on her reasons for resigning from the Flint City Council

 Can the experience of one individual be a mirror and a metaphor for a whole city or even a nation?

Allie Herkenroder’s resignation and her reaction to the pressures and turmoil of the Flint City Council are a reflection of what many of us have felt as we watched the events of the last year unfold in Flint and beyond.

In her comments to East Village Magazine Editor Tom Travis, she explained some of the reasons for resigning.  She said, “I had to have a serious conversation with myself. I had to realize that in order for me to be there for my family and to be there just as a human that I needed to take a really strong and hard look at what major stressors were in my life that were impacting my health in such a negative way.

Council President Allie Herkenroder (Ward 7). (Photo by Tom Travis)

“It was the decision that I needed to make and I was kind of putting it off,” she said, adding that she was putting off the announcement of her decision to resign so as to not distract from the process of passing the city’s budget.

But ultimately, she said, she decided that the people of the 7th Ward, “deserve someone who could be there and show up for them every day in a way that I was no longer able to….Anxiety and depression were ruling my life in a way that quite frankly scared me.”

For anyone who has been paying attention to the conflict and chaos of recent (and not so recent) meetings of the City Council, it is easy to sympathize with Herkenroder’s emotions. It’s often painful just to watch the turmoil of the meetings as an observer, and it must be much more frustrating and painful to be in the middle of it day in and day out. At least those of us watching on line can leave the room or click off when we feel like it. In hindsight it’s not surprising that she’s stepping aside. It’s surprising that she and others haven’t done so earlier.

Allie Herkenroder was elected in 2021, defeating incumbent Monica Galloway in the 7th Ward. In April of 2022, she was chosen as council president, after Councilperson Eric Mays (First Ward) was forced out of that position by the council. Herkenroder said  the conflict increased after replacing Mays, but she doesn’t blame him entirely for the turmoil and pressure on her. In her interview with EVM’s Tom Travis she said, “I don’t think it would be fair to lay blame on one person. I think the toxic nature of Flint City Council cannot be directed entirely at one person although he’s definitely a factor.”

City Council dysfunction, and beyond

The examples of the chaos in the current council are familiar to most of us who follow local politics:

— Meetings run until the early hours of the morning, with little accomplished but bickering over “points of information,” parliamentary procedure, racial division, and personal attacks.

— Eric Mays has been ejected from meetings on more than a few occasions, sometimes in handcuffs.

— Other members simply choose to leave early or don’t show up at all.

— Several members of the council have faced recall attempts.

— Three officials in City Hall have filed complaints against council members claiming they were subjected to abuse from them. In response, Mayor Sheldon Neeley issued an executive order aimed at stopping the bullying from the council.

Neeley later issued another order limiting public access to the underground parking area of City Hall because of threats of violence. It’s not hard to imagine the impact this has on someone thinking about moving to Flint or investing in the city.

Anyone watching or experiencing all of this might well have had the same reaction as Councilwoman Herkenroder.

But Flint’s experience, and Herkenroder’s response, goes well beyond the walls of City Hall. We have seen similar behavior with the Flint Community School Board as members have attacked each other. The Mott Community College Board of Trustees has recently had a few divisive meetings, and one only need to look to Washington to see more examples of partisan division in the U.S. Congress. Rep. Dan Kildee spoke of his similar emotional reaction to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Attorney General Dana Nessel, and many local election officials have also dealt with emotional threats.

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June council meetings cancelled

At the end of June the Flint City Council decided to cancel its last two meetings to give itself some time out and take a break from the conflict. Perhaps that break will give all the members of the council a chance to think about the real purpose of their being in City Hall and on the City Council.

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)

Yes, it’s always fun to score a win for “your side” and it can be an entertaining ego boost to be the loudest voice on the council, but in the final analysis the council must produce results and carry out the city’s business. Flint has many serious challenges and the council needs to face them. The endless bickering and name-calling do nothing to solve our problems.

The future

Allie Herkenroder has been an intelligent and dedicated member of the council who ran to make a difference as she took on a leadership role. Unfortunately the division and chaos made that goal impossible. Yet she may have done us a favor. It’s true that politics can be a nasty contact sport, but no one should have to deal with the conflict and abuse she faced, and her words are a warning to all of us. She deserves our thanks for her service and best wishes for the future. Let’s hope her action has shocked the council into becoming a more civil and effective governing body for the City of Flint.

Voters in Ward 7 on election day 2022.(Photo by Tom Travis)

As Tom Travis explains in his EVM story, the council will be choosing a new councilperson for the 7th Ward in the near future. Several prominent names have been suggested as potential candidates. Let’s hope that whoever is chosen will be able to lead the council in a new and more civil direction.

In the final analysis, the issue is much bigger than the resignation of one person from the Flint City Council. For democracy to prevail it must be effective and produce results. When that doesn’t happen it’s all too easy to turn to authoritarian leaders who promise to deliver the results if only you will give them all the power. In recent years we’ve seen examples of this both nationwide and worldwide.

In the end, it’s up to us, the voters, to elect and support those who are willing to make democracy work.

EVM Political Commentator and EVM board president Paul Rozycki  can be reached at 

Author: Tom Travis

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