Flint, MI– With four members absent from the Flint City Council Committee meeting, it only took one vote to keep the appointment of a new director of the Department of Public Works from going to the next regular city council meeting, where it could be approved.
On March 11, Mayor Sheldon Neeley announced his appointment of Michael Brown to the position that had been vacant since September of last year.
Brown started March 1, and is currently serving as interim DPW director. His appointment has to go before the Flint City Council for their consent.
When this appointment came up during the committee meeting on March 17, only five members were left: Councilwoman Monica Galloway, Councilwoman Jerri Winfrey-Carter, Councilman Maurice Davis, Councilman Eric Mays, and Councilman Allan Griggs.
Motions to move the appointment along to the next regular council meeting, or to the next special affairs committee meeting both failed by one vote: Councilman Griggs.
“I asked if he was a chemist, he said yes. I said, have you ever been in charge of engineers? He said no,” Griggs explained. “To me, the Director of Public Works should be an engineer, not a chemist. I know what it takes. Being an engineer I know.”
Brown has worked in multiple wastewater plants in the past, according to a press release sent out by the City last week. He was the utilities administrator at the wastewater treatment plant until 2011, the chief chemist for the city of Saginaw’s Wastewater Treatment Plant, and most recently, an operations supervisor for two wastewater plants in Oakland County.
He holds multiple licenses related to wastewater and water, as well as a State of Michigan teaching certificate in secondary education for mathematics and chemistry, which are two subjects he taught for the I.G.N.I.T.E. program in Mt. Morris.
In this role, Brown would oversee infrastructure systems including water, sewer, transportation and the water treatment plant.
After the first votes failed and Councilman Griggs explained his reason for not voting to move the appointment forward, Brown spoke up and said that he had worked on projects with engineers and engineering companies, and was the supervisor of an engineer at a wastewater treatment plant.
Councilman Griggs responded by saying there is “a big difference between…a chemist and a chemical engineer.”
“I never saw, in my 25 years experience in the industry, real industry, a chemist in charge of an engineer. I’ve never seen that,” he said. “I’ve got issues. I don’t see that.”
He said the reason Flint experienced a water crisis, was because “we did not have the right personnel in position.”
“We’re just not going deeply enough in vetting our employees to make sure that they have the right education if required for the right job,” Griggs said.
The former director of the department, Rob Bincsik, retired last year, and the job posting had been up ever since. According to the city, the position had previously gone unfilled for more than two years after the previous director resigned in November of 2015.
Griggs said that even Bincsik “wasn’t up to speed with everything.”
Because the council voted twice on the resolution, and it failed both times, there will have to be a motion for reconsideration at the next governmental operations committee meeting.
Brown will continue acting as the interim DPW regardless of the council not moving his appointment to the next council meeting.