Flint, MI– After several hours of discussion, the Flint City Council voted to “censure” Council President Eric Mays for misconduct, an action the council later defined as a “warning.”
During the council meeting on March 14, Council Vice President Allie Herkenroder added a discussion item to the agenda to talk about the “repeated lack of decorum … and the appropriate corrective action needed.” Specifically, she said, “a censure of the Flint City Council President.”
“I know specifically for me, being insulted to my face because I was told I was not smart because I was young … this is not something that I take lightly,” Herkenroder said. “And I believe that we owe it to ourselves, we owe it to our community, and we owe it to the future of the city of Flint to be able to bring decorum and respect back into this office.
This action follows a council meeting from Feb. 28, in which multiple members left in protest of what some called “disrespectful” behavior. The Ethics and Accountability Board took notice of that meeting and on March 8 decided to send a letter to the council urging them to update their rules regarding punishing their members.
“Our meeting two weeks ago was absolutely out of control,” said Councilwoman Judy Priestley. “Berating our city clerk, our administrator, members of our council. We have to show respect to our members as well as the staff.”
But behavioral issues on the council are not new.
Nearly two years ago, the EAB recommended that the council update their rules related to punishments for members after Mays performed a Nazi salute during a meeting. Arguments and marathon meetings have led to members walking out of meetings on multiple occasions.
Last year, Mayor Sheldon Neeley announced that city staff could leave the council meetings after 9 p.m. due to the “egregious and abusive behavior” they’re faced with at the meetings.
While the council discussed his misconduct, Mays argued that he didn’t have to agree with the attorney’s legal opinions, let city staff “lie to the council,” or “compromise right and wrong to get along” with people. He said this censure against him was an example of discrimination.
“I can’t help it if folks’ brains don’t understand the rules. I can’t help it if folks’ brains don’t understand discrimination,” Mays said. “Discrimination ain’t been understood by America for over 400 years.”
Councilman Dennis Pfeiffer said that if they vote to censure Mays, they would need to do the same to others who have acted inappropriately, specifically referring to Councilman Quincy Murphy and Councilwoman Eva Worthing.
Both Murphy and Worthing apologized for their past behavior.
“I just want to say publicly, I apologize, and I also apologize to my colleagues, because I have not always responded to what I consider being bullied, in the best manner,” said Murphy.
Worthing also apologized for an outburst that occurred in a closed session.
“I am sorry for my behavior. I will admit that was not good,” Worthing said. “However … I feel that Mr. Murphy and I have been provoked, and I don’t know anyone strong enough after years and years and years of it to not at some point just lose it.”
Multiple members agreed that the misconduct of Murphy and Worthing were not comparable to the president’s.
“I’m not excusing their behavior … but it is not the same type of behavior,” said Councilwoman Tonya Burns. She said it is the president’s job to facilitate the meeting and “make sure each person is heard,” and that doesn’t happen.
“Not attacking. Not shaming. Not calling them out. Not being offensive. Not mistreating or saying mean things. It’s sad. That does occur,” Burns said. “Everyone can’t take a gut shot, and gut shots are not what we were elected for.”
Some members said they were looking for an apology from Mays.
Priestley pointed out that Mays hasn’t “shown any remorse” for his behavior in council meetings, and Councilwoman Ladel Lewis said she would like to see Mays “take ownership of (his) shortcomings.” Councilwoman Jerri Winfrey-Carter said she would like him to “make some changes.”
“Everybody has to take accountability. You’ve got to step up to the plate and take the kind of accountability for what has happened here,” Winfrey-Carter said.
But Mays did not apologize.
“I wouldn’t care if y’all hold hands with each other, condone Ms. Worthing’s wrongdoing, condone Mr. Murphy. I’m not playing to this crap. … I ain’t buying it,” Mays said. “And I’m seeing the different treatment. It’s been displayed here openly.”
Worthing explained that the censure was just a warning.
“It’s not a ‘You’re out.’ It’s just a warning, as in, other things could happen,” she said.
The council voted to censure Mays with six yes votes, and three abstentions. Mays, Winfrey-Carter, and Pfeiffer abstained.