Flint, MI—Tempers flared at Flint City Council’s finance committee meeting as members discussed a property currently occupied by the House of Esther, a nonprofit organization offering a home to pregnant mothers.
Ultimately, Council failed to take any action before losing quorum.
At the Jan. 18, 2023, committee meeting, Councilwoman Tonya Burns called upon Flint Planning and Development director Suzanne Wilcox to discuss the property at 524 W. Pierson Rd.
Burns asked Wilcox why it had been listed without giving the House of Esther the first right of refusal, which Burns considered a breach of protocol.
“I have been trying to list the property for several months, and I communicated that to the House of Esther on more than one occasion,” Wilcox said. “I have been trying to list that property and have requested over the course of the last couple months approval to do that in concert with the law department, and the mayor authorized me to do that a couple weeks ago—last week, actually.”
Burns claimed that city administration was not following the procedure laid out in the Council’s policy of disposition, which she said would have provided the House of Esther an opportunity to resolve its back taxes before the city made the property available to the general public under the first right of refusal.
“This can go to court, because we’re not following our own policy, our procedure, and we’re not following state law,” Burns said.
Wilcox explained that Planning and Development listed the property under the department’s policy of disposition instead of Flint City Council’s, which she said permitted them to list the property without giving the House of Esther the first right of refusal.
“Why are you using your policy of disposition versus the council policy of disposition?” Councilman Eric Mays asked.
“I believe our property disposition procedures are consistent with state law. I think there’s a concern, and I’ve expressed this to you and to this council before, with the disposition policy that you adopted,” Wilcox said to Mays.
Wilcox then referred Council’s further questions to City Administrator Clyde Edwards.
Back at a May 18, 2022 committee meeting, Council voted unanimously to prevent the House of Esther from being evicted from the property due to failure to pay back property taxes left by the former owner.
The decision was intended to allow the organization 60 days to pay the back taxes, and according to Edwards, the city had still not received that payment as of Jan. 18, 2023.
“This council said, ‘You’ve got 60 days to resolve this matter.’ It was put on hold, a resolution was passed, and we were expecting some action, payment or otherwise, to go ahead and resolve this matter. To this day, we still have nothing,” Edwards told Council on Jan. 18.
Mays then accused Edwards and Mayor Sheldon Neeley of turning down money from the House of Esther. Edwards denied this, but Mays insisted on the accusation, asking if Council should make Edwards repeat his claim under oath.
“So we gonna have subpoena to y’all and put y’all under oath on this … to get to the truth?” Mays asked Edwards.
Mays asked Edwards to “facilitate” City Attorney Bill Kim’s presence at Council’s next finance committee meeting before suggesting he would motion for a subpoena.
“I’m going to put a motion on the floor and see what Priestley and Murphy do when it comes to subpoena y’all,” Mays said, referring to Councilmembers Judy Priestley and Quincy Murphy. “Want me to test it now? I don’t think you got anything to worry about, because they condone y’all behavior. My job is to investigate it and get to the truth, and that’s where I think the problem with council is at. Because y’all got some people on this council who condones y’all behavior. Want me to look at a couple of them?”
Mays then turned towards Murphy, to which Murphy responded by waving.
Mays proceeded to say that Murphy had been “acting a fool, talkin’ like a fool” since he was sworn in, and after Mays refused Murphy’s request to retract the insult, Murphy gathered his things and left the meeting.
Chairperson Priestley called a recess, but the finance committee ultimately had to adjourn due to a lack of a quorum without acting on the House of Esther.
Flint Beat reached out to ask for comment from Yvonne Penton, the founder of House of Esther, but did not receive a response by press time.