By Tom Travis
Editor’s note: This article has been updated on Thursday, June 29, with a statement from the City’s communication director concerning the ARPA Community Advisory Committee members.
Flint’s Deputy Chief of Staff bolted into a city council meeting Wednesday evening, arms raised, and yelling from the back of the auditorium announcing the meeting was not an “official meeting” and everyone had to leave by 7 p.m. He said, after that, the doors would be locked.
As Taylor yelled his announcement, five police officers entered the auditorium and stood in the back. A city resident stood and noted that there were more city police officers standing ready, she believed, to come over to the auditorium.
Councilperson Eric Mays (Ward 1) immediately stood up at his seat and rebutted Taylor’s aim to end the city council meeting.
Following the meeting Mays told EVM he believed Taylor’s presence at the meeting was “planned [by the administration].”
As the meeting ended and police began to clear the auditorium, Mays, surrounded by his cadre of lawyers, bantered with some of the police officers. Members of the public and some councilmembers moved outside and stood on the sidewalk discussing the meeting. As Police Chief Green walked up the sidewalk and entered City Hall he and Mays had a short discussion. Green continued on and went into the auditorium and met with several of the police officers.
The meeting that wasn’t
With only four council members present, an official council meeting could not take place. Five out of the nine council members must be present to have quorum. Nearly 25 residents, a cadre of attorneys who apparently work for councilperson Eric Mays, TV news cameras and some local media had gathered in the Dome Auditorium for the Special City Council meeting. The meeting had been called by Councilpersons Mays and Tonya Burns (Ward 6).
Along with Mays and Burns, Councilpersons Jerri Winfrey-Carter (Ward 5) and Quincy Murphy (Ward 3) carried on with an unofficial council meeting that lacked quorum, which according to the City Charter is allowed. But since there was no quorum, the four council members could not make motions nor take action on any city business.
Councilpersons Ladel Lewis (Ward 2), Judy Priestley (Ward 4), Allie Herkenroder (Ward 7), Dennis Pfeiffer (Ward 8) and Eva Worthing (Ward 9) were not present at the meeting. The councilmembers not present haven’t responded to EVM about why they did not attend the meeting.
Result: ARPA funds decisions delayed again
According to the notice for Wednesday’s meeting, the purpose was to discuss the remaining $30 to $50 million in funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).
Mays opened the meeting by making a plea for the remaining ARPA funds to be allocated for home repairs and upgrades for residents. He listed the needed repairs: furnaces that need repair or replaced, preparing homes for the winter season. In 2022 Mays created a form for residents to request ARPA funds for anything, including home repairs and improvements. Hundreds of forms were turned into the City Council office.
Councilperson Tonya Burns (Ward 6) lamented that the city had not allocated any ARPA funds for home repairs. She noted that Saginaw and other municipalities had successfully begun the process of allocation ARPA funds.
Mays bemoans the city’s ARPA Advisory Committee
Councilperson Mays repeated a complaint that he has raised several times in the past about the mayor-appointed ARPA advisory committee made up of 12 residents representing each ward in the city. Mays contends that the ARPA advisory committee is a “multi-member body” and he holds that the according to the charter , members of these types of boards must be approved by city council.Click here for a link to the City’s ARPA Advisory Committee.
Mays accused the ARPA advisory committee of “catering food” to their “secret meetings at the Flint Public Library.” Mays asked Chief Deputy City Attorney JoAnne Gurley to begin looking into the legality of the city’s ARPA Advisory Committee.
EVM has reached out to the Chairperson of the city’s ARPA Advisory committee, Shan Buckley to verify the accusations of Mays. Thursday morning the city’s communications director notified EVM that, “ARPA Community Advisory Committee members are volunteers and are not tasked with responding to the media in their roles.”
Statement from Caitie O’Neill, Communications Director and Spokesperson:
The ARPA Community Advisory Committee is made up of Flint residents from every ward in our city. We are truly grateful for the time and dedication they are showing to our city by advising us on how to use this critical funding on the projects our community cares about most. Thanks to the generosity of our philanthropic partners, basic refreshments are made available during meetings. No tax dollars are used to purchase food. It is truly unfortunate that these dedicated Flint residents are facing these kinds of unfair attacks. We applaud them and are truly grateful for their service to the City of Flint.
The ARPA Community Advisory Committee has not been given any specific powers by ordinance or resolution to make decisions or take final, official actions. As a result, it is not a multi-member body as defined by the Charter, and is not subject to the Open Meetings Act. City Council is well aware of this fact, yet specific members continue to spread disinformation, to the detriment of our community.
These types of antics have wasted tens of thousands of dollars in taxpayer resources by embroiling the City in lawsuits, monopolizing staff’s time, delaying city business, and confusing Flint residents. The Mayor’s Office will continue to follow the law and ensure ARPA funding is used on projects that benefit the people of Flint.
Mays added the reason he called Wednesday evening’s special meeting was because there have been no updates from the ARPA Advisory Committee. Mays was calling for a process to begin allocating the more than $30 millions of remaining ARPA funds that sit in the city’s coffers. Mays called for the mayor and his administration be “held accountable” on calling an “illegal” multi-member body (the ARPA Advisory Committee).
Councilperson Jerri Winfrey-Carter said she has never met the Fifth Ward representative on the ARPA Advisory Committee.
Mays reminded the council and audience, “If we don’t spend this money by the end of next year it goes back to the federal government. I don’t want to send $30 to $50 million back to the federal government.”
Mays bemoaned money being spent on the new brick project on Saginaw Street and a complete makeover of Miller Road in Flint’s southern eighth ward. Instead, Mays called for ARPA funds to be spent towards “generational wealth.” Generational wealth refers to funds and improvements that can be passed down to subsequent generations as in improvements to housing structures including new roofs, siding, updating kitchens and bathrooms.
In fact, ARPA funds are not being used for neither the brick project on Saginaw Street nor the Miller Road project. Both of those projects are funded by a combination of Federal, State and City funds.
Murphy attempted to correct and clarify some points Mays made about Murphy and the council. Councilpersons Murphy and Mays began arguing with each other. Mays called Murphy out of order and gave him his first warning. (Calling a councilmember out of order is a moot point since the meeting wasn’t an official meeting, lacking quorum.) The two ended the argument by Mays saying, pointing at Murphy, “Let this fool keep talking.” — to which Murphy responded, “You the fool.”
The meeting continued until about 7:30 p.m. There were six members of public waiting to address council and Mays allowed each member of the public to have their turn at the podium.
EVM Managing Editor Tom Travis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.