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Flint, MI– In a meeting that ran for more than ten hours, the Flint City Council voted to remove Eric Mays as president, citing behavior that violated council rules.
Council members seemed to be prepared for the meeting on April 11 to be a long one.
“I’m taking tomorrow off work, so I’m here till four in the morning for this,” said Councilwoman Eva Worthing. “Just wanted to make everyone aware I’m in for the long haul today. … We’re going to get this done.”
The resolution notes that Mays “displayed behavior … in violation of the Rules Governing the Flint City Council and the Flint City Charter,” specifically at a meeting on Feb. 28.
That meeting prompted the Ethics and Accountability Board to address the council about their behavioral issues. On March 15, the council voted to “censure” Mays, an action that was defined as a warning.
The resolution calling for his removal as president was first introduced in the special affairs committee meeting before the regular council meeting, when Worthing moved to send the resolution removing Mays as president to the regular council meeting. The resolution died for lack of a second, but council members tried to bring it back.
For the remainder of the meeting, Mays argued with other members of the council, including those who would later vote to remove him.
Mays has been known to interrupt meetings with a “point of order” or “point of information,” actions allowable under Robert’s Rules of Order but which he has been accused of abusing in the past.
The other members of the council appeared to be prepared to use those same tactics on Mays, calling several points of order and information throughout the meeting for all kinds of reasons, including using swear words, impeding democracy, and referencing the color of someone’s skin or eyeglasses.
Mays tried to issue multiple warnings to his colleagues, which resulted in multiple appeals of his rulings. Other members tried to call Mays out of order as well.
Councilman Dennis Pfeiffer pleaded with his colleagues to stop engaging with each other in this way and “falling into the trap.”
“Can we stop with the points of order? Can we stop with the points of information? Let’s put on thick skin, let his time expire so we can move on. … You’re giving him everything he needs by the talkback, by the decorum that we are falling into,” Pfeiffer said.
But some council members said they were tired of not sticking up for themselves.
Councilwoman Tonya Burns said she counted eight times that Mays interrupted her turn to speak with points of order and information.
“That’s excessive and it’s abusive. It’s abusing your power and authority as a chair,” Burns said.
Councilwoman Ladel Lewis said there was a reason why she “said a little extra” at this council meeting.
“The reason why is because usually we sit here and we let the president’s narrative go forward. … We don’t consistently check him and stop him,” Lewis said.
But Mays said that his colleagues were the ones who were out of order.
“All of that arguing and debating and misuse of points of information and points of order is illegal,” Mays said.
He said he was being discriminated against, implying that this could be in part because of his race, and in part because he is running for mayor.
“In my opinion, you know when all hell broke loose? When I filed them petitions to run for mayor,” Mays said. “And I can tell you who on this council supports who and is doing the work for who. … That’s relevant.”
Burns said that it was a “blatant lie” and that the disagreements were not related to mayoral politics.
Later in the night, during their regular council meeting, the council voted to suspend the rules to allow a reconsideration to remove Mays.
But before that happened, chaos ensued.
Once the rules were suspended, Mays continued to speak over other council members who tried to speak, make motions, and vote.
“We can have some chaos because the rules have been suspended. … If you think that y’all can create chaos, I sure can create it,” Mays said.
As other members took a vote to limit debate to five minutes each, Mays continued to speak over the rest of the council about the “lawlessness of these five or six council members.”
Pfeiffer called for a five-minute recess, but when council members got up, Mays announced that the meeting was adjourned due to a lack of a quorum.
Even though Mays announced the meeting was adjourned, seven council members returned after the recess they had called for. Mays and Councilwoman Jerri Winfrey-Carter were not present.
Murphy asked City Attorney William Kim if the council had the right to remove Mays as president and asked if they should be concerned about potential litigation. Kim said council members were within their rights to vote to remove Mays as president.
“Any person can file a lawsuit over anything. It’s my legal opinion that a lawsuit to try to challenge the removal at this stage would be futile,” Kim said.
Burns said she still had concerns about giving Mays his “due process,” although she said she did not condone his behavior.
“So the due process, for me, the threshold has not been met anyway. I do not weigh in on this lightly, I do not condone Councilman Mays’ behavior, not at all,” Burns said. “But I feel that for me, we have to follow the rules. I want him to be removed correctly. Without having him removed correctly, he will sue the city like he has done previously.”
Councilwoman Judy Priestley said she thought Mays could be “brilliant” as president, but that he gets in his own way.
“I don’t think we have any choice left to us,” she said. “We did give him notice. It was published in the agenda on Friday so we gave him several days notice, and I feel that we have no options here. In order to move this city forward, and to move the business of the city forward, we must do this.”
The council voted six in favor, with one abstention, to remove Mays as president. Vice President Allie Herkenroder, Lewis, Murphy, Priestley, Pfeiffer, and Worthing voted yes. Burns abstained.
The council did not elect a new president, but for the remaining 15 minutes, Herkenroder filled in as the chair. Members also briefly discussed trying to hire a parliamentarian to help meetings run more smoothly.