Written by Tanya Terry
After an approximately 11-hour city council meeting the night before, on May 12, Mayor Sheldon Neeley notified city hall department heads that they can be excused from city council meetings after 9 p.m. Staff attending meetings start work at 8 a.m.
Neeley’s move follows months of quarrelsome late-night meetings, and it comes on the heels of an 11-hour meeting that lasted until 4:47 a.m.-coming to an end only after losing the minimum number of members that must be present at any of the council’s meetings to make the proceedings of that meeting valid.
The city council was still working through its agenda when a fifth weary counci lmember, Councilperson Maurice Davis, finally decided enough was enough and dropped off the phone line of the electronic meeting.
“Failure to complete essential business in a timely fashion shows a gross lack of leadership and injects chaos into an organization,” Neeley said. “The people deserve better.”
“I hope the city council leadership will manage meetings better so that no staff – including Clerk Inez Brown and her office, which report directly to council – will be subjected to these unreasonable working conditions,” Neeley added. “The best decisions are made by alert, sober and sane minds.”
Council president Monica Galloway was not immediately available for comment.
Davis said he left the meeting because a civil meeting only lasts one to two hours.
“We did all the city business,” he said. “We moved all our city business. We were right at adjournment and we were talking about stuff that really wasn’t of relevance to anything after 4:30 in the morning.”
Davis said department heads check in early in the morning, work the full shift and have to report the next morning.
“No way should a department head have to remain in that building or even on the phone doing city business after 9 p.m. in the evening. We should wrap a meeting up after three or four hours at the max-not after 12, which is a whole different day. We shouldn’t have two day meetings.”
Davis said there is a lot of foolishness on behalf of the council and it must be stopped.
“It’s a lot of wasting time,” he said. “It’s a lot of trying to push back against administration instead of working with administration to get city business done at a time of a pandemic such as COVID-19. We need to be able to move on one accord and not be politically motivated. We can’t do business as usual. It’s a new time; a new day and there’s new stuff that’s paramount.”
Davis said elected leaders are counted on to do the right thing for the city of Flint.
During the meeting, council members held a public hearing on the city’s fiscal year 2021 budget and approved hazard pay for COVID-19, several policies and two critical projects involving the city’s drinking water system-including one for a $14.7 million pipeline that will connect the city to a backup source of water in case the main transmission line is inoperable.
The pipeline project was supposed to be completed before December 31, 2019, and the the resolution was voted down twice before finally being approved.
The council also approved awarding $138,904 in federal funds to Catholic Charities of Shiawassee and Genesee County for sheltering tenants at the Holiday Inn Express. The hotel will be used to house homeless people not infected by COVID-19 if the three Flint shelters’ COVID-19 quarantine units fill up. Previously, city and county discussed the hotel being used for emergency housing for homeless people with COVID-19.
Hazard pay for COVID-19 originated from city council.
“I’m the one who said pay everybody,” said Councilman Eric Mays.
“Santino Guerra was talking about police,” Mays added. “I said let’s pay police, fire, anyone who is essential.”
There are two ways a city council meeting can be called under the city’s charter in addition to regularly scheduled meetings. Two or more council members can call a meeting, or the mayor can call a council meeting.
“If the mayor wants to call a meeting at 10 in the morning and put on the post it’s over at 1 in the afternoon, he can do it,” Mays said. “If council wants to take care of business from 5:30 in the evening to 5:30 in the morning, we can do it as long as five or more agree with it. We’ve got business backed up because of the pandemic, and the council is the only ones who can move millions of dollars.”
Mays points out that the city council, as the legislative branch, is a co-equal branch of government. He said the council is attempting to do other projects only they can do. In addition, Mays said the mayor does not have to allow the council to meet after 9 p.m.
Mays is on record as saying council meetings can be adjourned until the next day until all the city business is completed, similarly to how it is done in Lansing and Washington.
“This isn’t about council responsibility and when people meet. Both branches have a right to call a meeting at the time they choose.”
Mays said the mayor cannot approve the curfew without council approval.
“I don’t want people to get this thing twisted on who is running the city. You’ve got two co equal branches of government.”
Mays referenced chapter 14, article 2 of the city’s code of ordinances, as well as 14-17 Mayor; Powers; Duties.
If the department heads don’t show up when we need them during this pandemic, I’ll be recommending that we subpoena them. That’s one of our greatest powers. We can subpoena department heads and even the mayor.”
Mays said an emergency is worth meeting at 12 midnight about.
“My position is if you have to work overtime, I will work while people are sleep to save their lives. I’m used to working overtime. Sometimes we can’t even stay home. We are frontliners. We are the trustees of the great city of Flint.”
Because of the functions of their jobs, the city attorney and city administrator will continue to stay along with the city clerk at the meetings after 9 p.m.