Flint, MI—At about 3:15 a.m. on Dec. 21, AC Dumas, a resident of Flint’s Third Ward, took to the podium at Flint City Hall to address the five Flint City Council members still present for the council’s Dec. 20 meeting.
”Needless to say how disappointed I am, as the public, we’re here at 3:15 in the morning,” Dumas said. “I’ve been attending council meetings longer than anybody here in the city of Flint, without any reservation—and this is the first time we ever started a council meeting at three in the morning.”
According to the public agenda, the Dec. 20 city council meeting was set to begin at 5:30 p.m. following virtual committee meetings beginning at 5:00 p.m.
However, the four committee meetings ran roughly 10 hours in total, resulting in just five of the nine total council members—President Eric Mays, Vice President Allie Herkenroder, Councilmember Tonya Burns, Councilmember Dennis Pfieffer, and Councilmember Quincy Murphy—present for the council meeting at City Hall.
Committee took 10 hours in part because the council had to discuss complicated resolutions involving American Rescue Plan Act compliance and the legality of the City Administrator’s recent action on county tax-reverted properties.
Committee also ran long because council members continued their ongoing debate over rules and procedures throughout the night.
For example, during the Governmental Operations Committee, council members spent more than 30 minutes disagreeing over, and being confused by, proper meeting procedure.
“Now, only thing we’re trying to do is ask for the city attorney’s opinion, because I want to make sure we get this done right,” said Ladel Lewis, chair of the committee, which had been called to order about an hour beforehand around 10:30 p.m., Dec. 20.
Lewis was responding to Mays, who had moved to separate a resolution regarding the transfer of county tax-reverted properties from the master resolution—or one that bundles multiple resolutions together for faster approval.
After Lewis gave Mays the floor, Mays began talking about a separate resolution regarding an agreement with the Flint Children’s Museum. Murphy requested a point of order, which is used to inquire whether correct procedure is being followed.
Murphy wanted to know if they had since moved on to discussion or if they were still supposed to be separating the transfer of properties.
Lewis said the council was still in the process of separating the prior resolution and asked Mr. Mays if he would be willing to hold comments until they reached discussion.
“Madam Chair, we’re on a motion that was made and properly seconded. That takes us to discussion. I don’t know why you’re trying to bend over backwards for that point of order,” Mays said.
Murphy ultimately withdrew his point of order, saying it was so Mays could continue discussion. Lewis again tried to defer to the city attorney for clarification on separating the resolution before moving forward.
“I just want to make sure that we’re doing this properly,” she said.
“Oh, here we go,” Mays responded.
The conversation continued as council members tried to parse out where they were in the process of separating the resolution from the master resolution.
At one point Lewis asked for clarification from City Council Secretary Janell Johnson.
“Janell, what was his (Mays’s) original point of order?” Lewis asked.
“I don’t know. I’m confused,” answered Johnson.
When Lewis, who began her term in November along with four of the other nine total council members, returned to asking the city attorney for proper procedure, Mays responded:
“Mr. Murphy and Ms. Lewis, not just in this meeting, but many a meeting, I guess they in a tug-of-war to prove their intelligence—to prove their intelligence with me. And they want to turn to the city attorney when anybody paying attention to this council meeting know a motion was made and properly seconded, we was in discussion, and I had the floor.”
After roughly 35 minutes, more consultation with the city attorney, and two appeals of Lewis’ rulings, the council ultimately voted to separate all resolutions on the Government Operations agenda and then move the original resolution Mays had brought to discussion to the council agenda.
In a request for comment on the evening’s proceedings, Lewis responded:
“Although the beginning of the meeting was off to a rocky start, it was demonstrated that when our Senior Council Person redirected his energy to help instead of harass or sabotage, we could all work together to complete the city’s business,” she said in an email. “I hope we can continue to work together in a safe environment as the new council people get acclimated to the rules and procedures.”
The Government Operations meeting was followed by the Grants Committee, after which councilmembers were meant to meet in-person at City Hall for the regular council session.
“I do have to go home because I do have to get up for work in the morning,” said Councilmember Judy Priestley after she finished chairing the Grants Committee at around 2:50 a.m on Dec. 21. “I’m sorry.”
Councilmember Jerri Winfrey-Carter had not been present all night, Councilmember Worthing had left during an earlier committee, and Lewis did not appear at City Hall for regular council, leaving five councilmembers to take action on the resolutions passed to council over the prior 10 hours.
However, after Murphy excused himself from the meeting, the council no longer had enough members present for a quorum, resulting in no action from the city council for its second meeting in a row.