Flint, MI — Flint City Councilmembers Eric Mays and Tonya Burns, as well as four other Flint residents, have filed a lawsuit against the city and Mayor Sheldon Neeley regarding the city’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding.
“We’ve raised the issue for weeks and months before we got to this point and it’s fallen on deaf ears,” Mays said at press conference on July 19, 2023.
The suit, filed on July 19 in Genesee County’s 7th Circuit Court, focuses on Flint’s ARPA Community Advisory Committee.
That committee is made up of 12 residents with at least one from each of Flint’s nine wards.
According to the city of Flint’s website, it’s tasked with helping “evaluate ARPA community grant proposals” and making “award recommendations related to the $15.6 million available for community grants as part of the City of Flint’s overall allocation of ARPA funding.”
The committee’s members were announced in a city press release on March 9, having been chosen from a pool of 91 eligible applicants “through a blind selection process using a scoring rubric to evaluate their applications.”
However, both in public meetings and within their lawsuit, Mays and Burns have questioned the legality of the committee’s formation and operation.
“I call it the illegal ARPA committee,” Mays said, “… it can’t be appointed solely and unilaterally, in our opinion, by the mayor.”
During the conference, both councilmembers said the lawsuit is important for residents because the city’s ARPA funds could be allocated for home repairs, which their constituents have been requesting.
“This is a once in a political career type of opportunity to allocate money to residents in categories of home improvements,” Mays said.
In the court filing, all six plaintiffs — Mays, Burns, John Billings Jr., Beverly Biggs-Leavy, Terence Leavy, Victor and Lavonzella Jones and Sherry Renee Dickerson — claim that the committee constitutes a “multi member body.”
As such, they allege, according to Flint’s city charter, the committee should have been created “by ordinance or resolution,” appointments to it should have been approved through Flint City Council and it should be subject to the Open Meetings Act.
Instead, the plaintiffs claim Neeley “unilaterally” created the committee, since no ordinance or appointments came before city council, and the committee is operating illegally because its meetings “are conducted in secret, closed sessions,” and its “recommendations are not reported publicly.”
“We work for the residents and the residents are not being served,” Burns said. “And that is a problem. We want to make sure that this money is equitably given, and that it’s not given just to whomever… They’re bound by the Open Meetings Act and the charter states very specifically to what a multi member body is.”
Mays and Attorney Joseph Cannizzo added that they hope this case leads to the ARPA committee being disbanded.
“That is the goal, to have it dismantled and in the future, should Mayor Neeley want to create some similar body, it has to be done the right way. It has to go before the city council,” Cannizzo said.
Mayor Neeley did not respond to Flint Beat’s request for comment on the lawsuit by press time.
However, also on July 19, the city administration separately announced that it would propose $5 million in home repair funding through Flint’s ARPA community grant dollars to Flint City Council.
The release did not state whether that funding recommendation was coming by way of its ARPA advisory committee, instead noting that the committee “has completed its work” and submitted all of its funding recommendations to the City of Flint administration.
“These are recommendations only; the committee itself has no decision-making authority,” the city’s release states. “The administrative team is reviewing and developing resolutions to send before the Flint City Council based on the committee’s recommendations, with some modifications.”