Flint, MI– Flint City Council plans to vote on a $20 million contribution to a state water crisis settlement at a recessed council meeting on Thursday.
After six and a half hours of discussion, questions and answers, and public comment at Monday night’s meeting, the council decided to recess.
Throughout this settlement process, the council has been divided on whether to accept or reject the city’s contribution, which, with contributions from local hospitals, would being the grand total settlement for Flint residents to $641.25 million. The state’s portion is $600 million.
For some council members, accepting the city’s contribution is the safest option. The city’s insurance company will be paying the whole $20 million, and they feel it eliminates the risk of putting financial strain on residents whose taxes, the city’s attorneys say, could potentially go up to cover future judgments and lawsuits the city can’t afford.
Additionally, the city’s attorneys, Rick Berg and Sheldon Klein, have encouraged the council to vote to accept the city’s contribution, even if they are unhappy with the terms of the $641.25 million settlement as a whole. They have said that the council can accept the city’s contribution now and voice their concerns about the settlement to Judge Judith Levy later. If the council doesn’t accept it, they say the settlement will just move on without the city.
But for other council members, accepting the contribution and then protesting the settlement would be sending mixed messages. They say the council ought to reject the city’s contribution, file legal objections to the settlement, and show Judge Levy that the citizens of Flint want the settlement “tweaked.”
Attorney Loyst Fletcher, who is not a part of the federal lawsuit but represents a class of citizens who paid for water they couldn’t drink, said the city’s attorneys were using intimidation tactics to bully the council into accepting. He said adult residents could get more money filing water refund claims than through this settlement, and that in his opinion, council does have the power to get the settlement changed before accepting the city’s contribution.
Despite the council’s division on how they should vote, almost every council member expressed some level of dissatisfaction with the settlement as a whole, including the amount of money, the formula used to divide the funds, the amount of information given to the council, and the amount of input the council had throughout the process.
Councilwoman Kate Fields proposed a conditional acceptance, with terms including hiring an independent attorney law firm to look over the case and advise the council, as well as a two-month extension to give the council time to do this. She also proposed that Mayor Sheldon Neeley would also have to sign the agreement, along with council.
But Attorney Klein said that a conditional acceptance is a rejection, and that you “can’t have it both ways,” as far as accepting and still wanting to make changes.
“We can’t modify [the agreement] before you vote on it, and we can’t extend the date,” Klein said.
Councilman Maurice Davis questioned the feasibility of even hiring independent counsel and being advised in time, given that Judge Levy is supposed to decide whether or not to preliminarily approve the settlement on Monday, Dec. 21.
“[The attorneys] did five long hard years of work,” Davis said. “And we’re gonna bring somebody in five days to do the work you’ve done in five years…now that don’t make good sense to nobody.”
Councilman Eric Mays encouraged council to reject the city’s contribution, and file objections to Judge Levy to get the settlement changed.
He said if the city council doesn’t accept the settlement, and residents write to the judge, Judge Levy might get the message that the settlement needs to be tweaked. But if the council accepts it, Mays said Levy might feel less inclined to make changes.
“My job is to try to provide leadership on objections because I can’t rubber stamp this comfortably, and then come back and object. You stay consistent along the way,” Mays said.
Mays also requested representatives from the city’s insurance company come to the meeting, but nobody did. He asked how the council could be expected to make a decision on the agreement without speaking to insurance companies first.
During public comment, speakers were divided on what they wanted the council to do about the settlement too.
Claire McClinton called the settlement “another betrayal by the State of Michigan,” and said that if the council signs off on the $20 million contribution, they would be saying they agree with the whole settlement.
“The $20 million that the city is talking about…you are cosigning the $600 million, which is not enough money,” she said. “The formulas are flawed, and you are endorsing this flawed settlement.”
Reverend Daniel Moore wrote a letter to the council that was cosigned by several other Flint pastors, encouraging them to vote to accept the city’s contribution.
“We cannot afford to lose this opportunity for the city to settle lawsuits at no taxpayer expense,” it read.
No matter which way the council votes, Councilwoman Monica Galloway remarked that she thought it was unfair that the council would be held responsible for whatever happens with this settlement that they had no input in.
“I am extremely tired of decisions that have been made by the state that has impacted the city, only to come into the public square of this body and consistently be told that if this goes wrong, that we’re somehow liable,” she said.
She asked the council to ask themselves if they’re willing to allow decisions made by other people to fall into their laps and be told, “it’s the best we’re going to get…if we don’t take this deal we’re going to put more of a financial impact on a community that really can’t afford it.”
Council voted 7-2 to recess the meeting, in hopes of getting more information.
The next meeting will be held on Thursday at 5:30 p.m.