Flint, MI – Mayor Sheldon Neeley announced that Flint’s city administration will no longer stay in council meetings past 9 p.m.
“City Council’s ability to manage meetings that limit the scope of debate when conversations shift off-topic or become repetitive has not evolved, instead, it has gotten worse,” Neeley said in the release.
The last two council meetings went on for more than nine hours, and several previous meetings went on for more than seven and eight hours. Meetings typically start at 4:30 p.m. or 5 p.m., which means they sometimes carry past midnight.
In addition to long hours, the press release states that the city staff is “subjected to unreasonable work conditions that include egregious and abusive behavior toward them personally and professionally.”
The city administrator will now directly excuse department heads and other city employees from the meetings at 9 p.m.
The members of council often rely on city staff to be present at the meetings to ask questions about resolutions on their agenda, but according to the release, the long hours of the meetings “impede on staff members’ ability to serve residents the following day rested and fully alert.” The meetings also impact the city employees’ “mental health and well-being,” according to the release.
Council President Kate Fields said she wished Neeley would have done this even sooner.
“It’ll bring this to a head with council members who try to keep us in these meetings until the wee hours of the morning. While they say they’re talking about the business of the city, they’re not,” Fields said. “They’re just repeating old grudges, getting political, using it to bash the mayor, bash councilmembers, bash whoever they think is in their way. And it’s an absolute waste of time.”
Fields said she thinks the behavior of the council does rise to the level of abuse of staff and other council members.
“If the council as a body can’t find a way to take care of business within a reasonable time, then we won’t have the assistance of the administration,” Fields said. “But you cannot expect people in their jobs to work all day, and then be required to be on a 10-, 11-hour meeting and show up again at 8 a.m. to work. That is abusive.”
Councilman Eric Mays feels differently. He said that until city councilmembers hold full-time positions, and can start their meetings in the morning, it’s unreasonable for city staff to leave meetings at 9 p.m.
He also said the reason that many meetings go on so long is because of public comment which sometimes goes for more than an hour, and public hearings where speakers are given 10 minutes each to speak.
“This directive is going to be problematic. It’s going to cause some people, including the mayor, for me to put a motion to remove them for cause,” Mays said. “Because our job is to take care of the business of the citizens of Flint.”
Neeley said he hopes the decision to dismiss city staff from the meetings at 9 p.m. will encourage the council to “conduct more efficient and focused meetings, and hold their members accountable for the treatment of City employees.”