Flint, MI — After six hours, Flint City Council passed just three items to their regularly scheduled meeting on Oct. 9. Then, they failed to hold it.
At the special affairs meeting before council’s regular meeting that night, the agenda featured roughly 25 items, including 13 appointments and six resolutions related to allocating the city’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds.
The ARPA resolutions, when totaled, amounted to nearly $32 million of the city’s $94.7 million federal award.
However, when the special affairs meeting concluded at 10:44 p.m., only three of its agenda items had been passed through to the council’s regular meeting, which was supposed to take place afterward.
None of those items dealt with the 13 appointments before the body — most of which council voted to send back to its Government Operations committee without discussion — nor the city’s ARPA funds, which were either dropped or left on the special affairs agenda for lack of a passing motion.
Instead, the three items that the council voted through to its regular meeting were: a resolution to reduce the number of lanes on Court and Fifth Streets from Ann Arbor Street to Lapeer Road; a resolution to approve a 2023 strategic budget plan setting out city goals and measures of success for the next fiscal year (FY); and a resolution amending the FY2024 first quarter budget by roughly $1 million.
But before these items, or any of the regular council meeting agenda’s other 12 other resolutions, could be voted on, the council lost quorum.
In not holding that regular meeting, council failed to host a scheduled public hearing or vote on a brownfield plan that would help bring 16 new-build homes to Flint’s Carriage Town neighborhood.
It also did not accept a roughly $11.5 million grant to support watermain work on Saginaw Street and rehabilitation of the city’s Cedar Street pump station.
It failed to vote on over $842,000 in Flint ReCAST programming and implementation contracts with the Crim Fitness Foundation, Michigan State University, Genesee Health System and the Greater Flint Health Coalition, and it did not vote on the purchase of office supplies, construction projects on Fenton Road, or an agreement with the YWCA of Greater Flint to provide support services to victims of sexual assault.
It also, according to Flint City Administrator Clyde Edwards, violated the city charter.
“Last night, the Flint City Council broke quorum during its Special Affairs Meeting and failed to hold a regular meeting on the second Monday of the month as required by the Flint City Charter and the Rules Governing Meetings of the Flint City Council,” Edwards said in a prepared statement. “This is the second time that this city council has violated the charter. Their first charter violation was failing to pass the city’s budget on time. This level of dysfunction has made it difficult to move the City of Flint forward.”
Death Threats and Meeting Attendance
Council members’ attendance was brought up multiple times during the special affairs meeting, both in relation to a proposed resolution that would have suspended Council Vice President Ladel Lewis, who did not attend the meeting, and to Councilman Dennis Pfeiffer’s early departure from the meeting.
The latter absence was excused by all members present after Pfeiffer said at the outset of the meeting that he and his family had been receiving death threats.
Pfeiffer, who represents Flint’s 8th ward, is the only white man on Flint City Council. Lewis, a Black woman, recently accused him of making a racially charged comment toward her during a Sept. 21 council meeting, which has since received local and national media attention.
“It’s unfortunate, you know, because I’m getting threats from across the nation. I’m getting threats locally. I had a conversation with the FBI today. I’m under 24-hour security,” Pfeiffer said. “There’s folks on this council that are perpetrating it.”
The councilman added that “there will be defamation lawsuits” and “criminal prosecution” to come, and he’s “not playing around.”
Visibly upset as he explained that people were threatening his family’s safety, he concluded by saying, “You want to know where I am? Come to my motherfucking front door.”
Pfeiffer then left his seat and did not return for any votes for the remainder of the night.
Following Pfeiffer’s comment, Councilwoman Candice Mushatt said she’d heard that other councilmembers had also received death threats, and asked that those watching consider the pressure and fear some of the council is operating under as audience members post videos and photos to social media.
“We are still, basically, risking our lives at this point. And I know you all think it’s not that serious, but for us it’s very serious… this is literally becoming life and death for people and their families,” she said.
Councilwoman Judy Priestley, who was chairing the meeting, said she denounced death threats toward any member of the city council and asked for a return to “civility” at meetings.
Aside from Lewis and Pfeiffer’s absences, Councilwoman Eva Worthing also did not attend the Oct. 9 meeting.
While the council did not vote to move any of the ARPA resolutions on the special affairs agenda to their regular meeting, they did spend time discussing them.
The majority of the conversation centered around the process by which the resolutions had come before the body.
Both Councilman Eric Mays and Councilman Quincy Murphy lamented that while the proposed funding was meant to go toward projects in their wards, no one from the city administration had spoken to them about those projects directly.
“50,000 for something ain’t nobody talked to me about,” Councilman Eric Mays said regarding a resolution that would grant $50,000 in ARPA funding to the James E. Kennedy Family Life Center.
Mays noted that he wasn’t opposed to the center nor its proposal to do neighborhood cleanup work, however, he also knew of other groups that perform a similar function all the time and deserved such funding, like the Brownell-Holmes Neighborhood Association.
Murphy said the same about a resolution for $50,000 to the Sylvester Broome Empowerment Village (SBEV), noting he had nothing against SBEV but he felt there were other groups that he knew of who could benefit from such funding and he “wished the administration had reached out” to him.
Councilwoman Tonya Burns also questioned the process, but focused her questions on where the resolutions’ approvals had originated.
Calling up Flint City Administrator Clyde Edwards, Burns said that, in the case of the James E. Kennedy Family Life Center proposal, the city’s ARPA Advisory Committee had made a recommendation not to fund it.
“If the 12-person ARPA committee did not approve this, can you shed light on how it got approved and what was the criteria?” she asked Edwards. “Why were they denied by the 12-person ARPA advisory committee?”
Edwards responded, “Everything that’s been put in front of you are recommendations that are coming from the mayor.”
Burns repeated that the resolution had gone through the advisory committee and they denied it, and asked again if Edwards had information on why the committee had denied it.
“All resolutions that have been put before you are from the mayor,” Edwards answered.
Burns, who is part of an ongoing lawsuit claiming the city’s ARPA committee is illegal, did not relent. She said Edwards was “not being transparent,” and asked if the administration had gotten “notes back” on what the committee had “approved or disapproved.”
“I provided the answer,” Edwards said.
“No you didn’t,” Burns responded. “That’s why I’m still asking.”
A motion to send the James E. Kennedy Family Life Center resolution to the council’s regular meeting failed to pass, with a unanimous vote against it by Burns, Priestley, Mushatt, Murphy and Councilwoman Jerri Winfrey-Carter. Mays was not at his seat for the vote.
All other resolutions dealing with standalone ARPA-funded projects, including the SBEV resolution, another offering $50,000 to the Latinx Technology Center and one for $1 million toward the Rx Kids pilot program, also failed to make it out of Special Affairs.
Flint City Clerk Davina Donahue confirmed that these resolutions will therefore appear on the council’s next special affairs committee meeting agenda unless a special meeting was called to address them prior.
The last of the night’s ARPA-related resolutions, which consolidated over $30 million in ARPA spending across multiple city departments and project types, the council voted to drop altogether.
Both Burns and Priestley, the latter of which sat on council’s ad-hoc ARPA committee and helped shepard through an approved budget for the city’s funds, pointed out that the resolution language still had “to be determined” in its language.
Council voted 5-1 to drop the resolution, with Mushatt casting the single no vote.
Donahue clarified that a vote to drop means “that council no longer wishes to consider the action item and is dropping it from its docket. Unlike postponing indefinitely, a dropped item is considered done and cannot be brought back under the same number.”
Flint City Council’s next special affairs committee and regular meetings are scheduled for Oct. 23.