Flint, MI — Trevor Berryhill walked into the Oct. 18, 2023 finance committee meeting, just like any other resident would on a Wednesday night. Well, except for that he had a semi-automatic rifle strapped across his chest.
He, along with councilmembers and other Flint residents, expressed concerns over the motive behind Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley’s decision to install metal detectors outside of City Council Chambers this week.
“I really don’t think that your metal detector stops guns. Weird. I really don’t think too many people were concerned before about firearms in this room,” Berryhill, a Flint resident, said during public speaking. “This is my first time carrying here, I usually carry concealed. Ladies and gentlemen, that was a stupid move.”
During a discussion, Flint City Councilwoman Tonya Burns said that the metal detectors were a “political” move because they were placed in front of the council chambers entrance, as opposed to the main entrance to the building.
“Everyone comes in downstairs, let’s keep every resident safe, not just specific to making a political point,” she said. “People don’t have to go through that metal detector, they have a right to tell them that, ‘I’m going to go around,'” she said.
Burns said she also carries a gun.
But she’s not the only one. Councilmembers Dennis Pfeiffer and Judy Priestley said during the meeting that they carry guns too.
“I’m carrying a gun right now,” said Pfeiffer. “After the month that I’ve had, I’d be stupid not to.”
Pfeiffer along with other city council members have said that they are receiving ongoing threats on their lives. Some members have filed reports with law enforcement.
“I would suspect that almost every one of us [on council] has gotten death threats,” said Priestley. “I know at least seven of us have, and that’s ridiculous because we’re just trying to serve our city,”
Flint City Councilwoman Jerri Winfrey-Carter said she doesn’t feel strongly about the metal detectors, but that the way they were installed was political.
“This is all, to me, a political ploy,” she said.
Pfeiffer shared a similar sentiment to Winfrey-Carter, saying the detectors were put outside of council chambers not for safety purposes, but to label them as a place of “chaos.”
Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley responded to the accusations of the metal detectors being political in an Oct. 20, 2023 email, noting the detectors were installed due to ongoing threats.
“The metal detectors were installed before the Flint City Council committee meeting this week as a proactive tool, so that public safety personnel could be aware of firearms in the room. We should have the ability to know if someone is walking into a place of government with a gun,” he wrote. “Logistically, we placed a metal detector outside the council chambers to make the best use of limited personnel and resources. The people who do the work of government in the city council chambers have been threatened, so this is where we need to direct our resources.”
Flint City Council Vice President Ladel Lewis and Councilwoman Eva Worthing were not present at the Oct. 18 meeting.
Worthing told Flint Beat that she decided not to go because she predicted the meeting would be dysfunctional after learning that some councilmembers were upset with Neeley.
“That immediately just let me know that the very next day was our meeting and it was not going to be functional because this is what they’re choosing to concentrate on,” she said. “Anything the mayor does … they [Burns and Councilman Eric Mays] will work against, that’s how I feel.”
Though Worthing did not attend the Oct. 18 meeting she said she is against people being allowed to bring guns to city hall saying, “That’s the frustrating part is I wish that we could ban guns coming into the building.”
Lewis said she didn’t attend because of a threat she received on social media saying, “I hope you (vulgarity) die don’t show your face this week.”
She said the metal detectors may be one way to help keep people safe at city council meetings.
“The metal detectors outside of council chambers is one step towards keeping the council members and residents safer,” Lewis said.