Flint, MI– Flint’s second ward councilperson was removed from the meeting Monday night after getting up to use the bathroom without asking permission.
On Dec. 13, close to midnight, Council President Eric Mays decided not to allow Councilwoman Dr. Ladel Lewis to come back into the meeting after she’d gotten up from her seat to use the bathroom during public comment without telling him.
According to the council rule 27.1, “no councilpersons shall leave a meeting of the council without first having obtained leave to do so from the president, presiding officer or committee chair.”
“If a councilperson leaves a meeting without having obtained this permission, the presiding officer is to assume the councilperson has left the meeting and will not, cannot, return without the presiding officer’s permission,” the rule states.
Mays read the rule when Lewis returned, and said he would entertain a motion to suspend all city council rules, but that if the council decided to keep the rules in place, he would not allow her back into the meeting.
In the vote to suspend the rules, the council voted four yes, five no, which kept the rules in place. Mays, Councilman Dennis Pfeiffer, Councilwoman Jerri Winfrey-Carter, and Councilwoman Tonya Burns voted yes. Lewis, Councilman Quincy Murphy, Councilwoman Judy Priestley, Vice President Allie Herkenroder, and Councilwoman Eva Worthing voted no.
“I tried to be nice. Suspend the rules, take the power away from me to give permission, and a majority of this council voted to leave it with me…I call them goofy rules,” Mays said. “Now the majority say, ‘stick with the goofy rules,’ and guess who have permission to decide if she returns? Me.”
Lewis was one of the votes to keep the rules, even though she knew it meant she would be removed.
“If I have to be the sacrificial lamb in order for my colleagues to operate a meeting in civility, so let it be,” she said on Dec. 14. “We need order…you would think that we would be able to learn the ropes in a safe environment where our senior council people will help us out and lead us along, instead of bullying and using other oppressive tactics.”
Mays has repeatedly requested that the new council vote to suspend the rules in their meetings. For the first few meetings, the council did.
“We’ve tried several times to not use these rules so that we can be functional. We were functional for the first three, four meetings, right? We were functional. We were in and out,” said Councilman Dennis Pfeiffer.
Lewis said that’s only because Mays “was allowed to have the floor and to talk for extended periods of time.”
“A lot of us, we don’t have that kind of time to just sit and just talk at council. So we said, well, in order for us to alleviate the excess of rhetoric, we’re going to go ahead and vote to keep the rules,” Lewis said.
The votes to suspend the rules at the last two meetings didn’t pass. The last meeting, on Dec. 8 lasted more than eight hours. The council meeting on Dec. 13 lasted almost 10 hours.
Some council members say that’s because the current council rules make it impossible to function.
“These rules are dysfunctional. We need to get rid of these rules. We need to throw these rules in the trash,” said Councilwoman Jerri Winfrey-Carter.
She said the rule about asking permission to leave was a “prime example” of why the council needs to redo the rules and that until they get them straightened out, meetings should be run based on the “golden rule.”
Mays said he attempted to show his colleagues “grace and mercy” by entertaining a motion to suspend the rules. Since that vote didn’t pass, Mays said he would not allow Lewis back in, and called it a “learning moment.”
But some council members say the problem isn’t the rules, it’s the president.
“This was absolutely orchestrated to prove a point. Vindictiveness comes to mind,” Worthing said. “The rules are not the problem. That would be like saying, ‘I should just throw out my classroom rules. They just don’t work. You know, the kids should just do whatever they want. Rules don’t work.’ Maybe it could be the person who is enforcing the rules might be doing it wrong, and that’s why it doesn’t work.”
Lewis said she thought her removal was a result of Mays being “upset” that they hadn’t suspended the rules.
“When he can’t get his way, he sabotages the meeting, and that’s the unfortunate part,” she said.
At the previous meeting on Dec. 8, after the vote to suspend the rules failed, Mays had a message for his colleagues.
“This council better get ready to go to school. All those no voters, (I’m going to) take them to school,” Mays said then.
At that meeting, Worthing asked if that was a threat, and said it was “uncalled for.”
Mays responded by saying it wasn’t a threat, but was just “to show how goofy and stupid and time consuming these rules” are.
“Don’t come out here trying to piss me off and try to get the public to believe somebody threatening somebody,” he said. “No, it’s a following of the rules. …You want to label it a threat? I got a lot of adjectives I could use to describe you. Now I can describe your condescending privileged tone as well. Who do you think you talking to in this public arena? You got the wrong one.”
Herkenroder told the council at the Dec. 13 meeting that she and Councilwoman Judy Priestley had been working with the city’s legal counsel on revising the rules, and would present a draft on Dec. 20.
“There’s so much ambiguity, so our intent is to tighten up the rules to make it very clear how many votes are needed per motion, which motions do require debate, which motions do not require debate,” Herkenroder said.
Lewis said she was glad her colleagues were working on revising the rules, but that in the meantime, the council needs “to make this a safe environment conducive to learning, not a hostile environment.”
When Lewis was removed, Murphy and Worthing left the meeting as well in solidarity.