Flint, MI—Flint’s city council president says she may take legal action following the council’s vote to silence her for 30 days.
During a special meeting on Sept. 28, the council voted 5-2 to “censor” or “censure” Council President Kate Fields. The council specifically voted to allow her to vote at the meetings, but not speak for the next 30 days.
The vote came one day after Fields had Councilman Eric Mays muted and removed from the virtual city council meeting on Sept. 27.
On Oct. 6, Fields shared a written statement on Facebook regarding the censorship, in which she said it was a violation of her first amendment right and council rules. She had tried to read the statement in the council meeting that day, but was kept from doing so by other council members.
“I have been advised by multiple well-known attorneys regarding the “censure” or “censoring”of the Council President,” she wrote. “They all agreed that this motion to not allow me to Chair Council Meetings and to not allow me to speak is not a LEGAL MOTION.”
In her statement, she gives multiple reasons she said the censorship is illegal. She said it is a violation of her first amendment rights, and that it violates council rules which state that the council elects a president, and that president shall preside at the council meetings.
During the Oct. 6 council meeting, Councilman Santino Guerra who was chairing the finance committee meeting, attempted to give Fields the floor to make her statement. He said he believed the council’s vote to censor her was illegal.
“I don’t think we’re allowed to not allow presidents to preside,” he said.
This was met with objections from other council members, and ultimately an appeal of his decision.
Councilman Eric Mays said that the council has the authority to punish members for various things, and that the five council members voted to do that.
“When Mrs. Fields wrongfully, in my opinion, muted me without an appeal, without a discussion. I mean she was repeatedly creating rules about, she don’t have to honor appeals … points of orders,” Mays said. “We decided that was a lawless chair. You must honor appeals and points of orders. They’re necessary for orderly conduct of business. So I think you’re misinterpreting, and you’re overlooking punishment of members.”
Mays said Guerra was also overlooking his own lawsuit against the city for suspending him from meetings for 30 days, among other things. Mays lost that lawsuit, and is now paying the city back for the legal costs.
U.S. District Court Judge Bernard A. Friedman, the judge in Mays’s case, dismissed his case citing “legislative immunity.”
In the case dismissal, Friedman wrote that “a legislative body’s decision to expel one of its members is a legislative activity,” and that the expelled member cannot sue the other members for participating in the legislative process.
Councilwoman Eva Worthing argued that the circumstances between Mays and Fields’s removals were “completely different.”
“It was because he gave the Hitler salute and said ‘damn you, damn you, damn you,’ forced himself to get handcuffed out of the meeting … that is disorderly conduct,” she said. “What everyone is doing here is just silencing another council member.”
The council voted to support the appeal, denying Guerra’s decision to allow Fields to speak. But he continued to try to give her the floor, and said the council would have to vote to remove him from the meeting if they didn’t want that to happen.
City Clerk Inez Brown told the council that while the staff wasn’t taking sides, they had to uphold what the council voted on the previous week, which was that Fields could not speak. Brown said they would keep her muted until it came time for a vote.
“I am the Council President and I have the RIGHT AND DUTY and OBLIGATION to Chair Council Meetings and I WILL NOT ALLOW this body to silence the voice of the 4th Ward, some nine thousand residents,” Fields said in her statement. “I WILL NOT ALLOW the bullying and abuse of either myself, Council staff or other Council Colleagues. I WILL NOT ALLOW the behaviors of threats, intimidation and/or harassment.”
Fields concluded her statement by saying there will be more to come.
“I will persevere in my attempts to be heard both by actions and most likely through legal remedy,” she stated. “Stay tuned.”