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This story is a part of a weekly series in which Flint Beat explores the issues and concerns of resident in each ward, as well as each council candidate, leading up to the Aug. 3 primary. For more election coverage, including other stories in this series, visit our elections page.
Flint, MI– Seventh ward residents will have three choices come the Flint City Council primary election on Aug. 3.
The incumbent, Monica Galloway, has served on the council for eight years and emphasizes the responsibility of a councilperson to be a legislator, abide by the charter, and handle the budget.
She is up against two challengers this election, both of whom are younger and promise to bring a new perspective to the council.
Allie Herkenroder, 26, has an educational background in political science and working with policy. She said a councilperson should be solutions-oriented and have ideas for investing in broadband infrastructure, expanding healthcare, and promoting affordable housing.
Shannon Searcy, 35, also has her bachelor’s degree in political science, as well as a master’s degree in public administration. She wants to see more unity among the seventh ward, the city, and the council, and act as a liaison to the community to connect them with resources she says are being underutilized.
The seventh ward is located on the city’s eastern side, and covers four square miles. It encompasses Mott Community College, and most of the University of Michigan-Flint campus. City Hall is in this ward, along with the MTA’s central bus station. The Flint Cultural Center, Flint Institute of Arts, Longway Planetarium, and the Applewood Estate are all in this ward as well.
According to a report from the University of Michigan-Flint, in 2017, this ward was made up of about 11,900 people. Of that population, 53% of residents are Black, 42% white, and 5% Hispanic. It is the second oldest ward in the city.
The report showed that the median household income in this ward in 2017 was approximately $26,000, with 35% living in poverty. Of the residents over the age of 25 in this ward, 32% hold a college degree, the highest of all wards, according to the study.
According to the Flint Property Portal, approximately 73% of properties in this ward are listed as being in “good” condition. Of the 4,522 properties in the ward, 3,284 are listed as “good,” 612 are listed as “fair,” 148 are listed as “poor,” and 78 are listed as “sub-standard.”
There have been 210 demolitions in this ward, and there are 59 more properties listed for demolition, 35 of which are funded.
Seventh ward residents say they want a councilperson who will address crime and blight, support residents, and work well the rest of the council and the administration.
Blight and crime
Shirley Milton has lived in the seventh ward for almost 35 years. She’s a precinct delegate, and works at the Brennan Senior Center. She’s involved in other organizations and groups as well, including Flint’s Water Citizens Advisory Committee.
“I want a candidate who is really committed to getting the work done and not their own personal agenda,” Milton said.
She said blight and crime are major issues in the seventh ward, as well as all over the city.
“I want them to make sure that we get some protection over here in this area, because this is an area where a lot of seniors live, and retired people,” she said.
Herkenroder said that in talking to residents, the issues she heard about most often were crime, blight, and sidewalks. Her solution for these problems in the seventh ward, and the city as a whole, is investing in broadband infrastructure.
“The way that those two can connect is because by investing in broadband infrastructure, we will be able to utilize cameras along those hot spots of Dort highway and other stretches of road in the community where drag racing happens,” Herkenroder said. “So we can track that, we can see, who are the cars that are doing this, and how can we make sure that we create a safe community for all of our residents. And we can’t have those cameras if we don’t have the infrastructure to support them.”
She said the cameras would also be useful in spotting and deterring illegal dumpers.
“I know that historically Shady Acres has been blight dumping ground, and I know that’s not in the seventh ward, but a lot of blight was reduced because the community came together and they actually put up motion cameras so that whenever someone tried to come and dump, a light would turn on and they would record, who was doing the dumping,” she said. “Well, that stopped a lot of the dumping really quickly.”
Herkenroder grew up in Elkhart, Indiana, but moved to Flint after graduating from college, where she earned her degree in history and political science. She also completed internships with the Department of Education in Washington D.C., and has experience working on policy, which she said would be a valuable asset to the council.
She joined AmeriCorps in 2017 and worked with Flint Community Schools after moving to Flint in 2012. She said Flint is now her favorite town in the world, and that investing in broadband infrastructure would make it a more equitable place.
“Did you know that 25% of families with children in Flint do not have access to the internet in their home? I believe that’s a big deal,” she said. “This isn’t a new problem, but COVID put a huge magnifying glass on the fact that our society is not equitable. We need to make sure that we support opportunities for our students to be able to have learning opportunities, so they can not miss days of school, and for their families to be able to build from home.”
She said she would like to see the American Rescue Plan Act funds be used for this investment, which she said could create jobs, a safer community, and a more equitable society. You can learn more about Herkenroder at her website.
Searcy said she believes part of the solution in bringing down crime and blight in Flint is to find more programs and activities for the youth to be a part of.
“I find that if we could give our people or give things for us to do, then it will cut back on some other issues that we have from the blight and the crime and other scenarios that we have,” she said.
Searcy has lived in Flint for the last ten years. She was raised in Atlanta, but her grandfather is a Flint native, so she’s been back and forth her whole life.
Searcy has a bachelor’s degree in political science, with a minor in history. She also has a master’s degree in public administration. She is a real estate agent and has worked with AmeriCorps for three years.
Searcy said she sees many resources in the seventh ward that aren’t being utilized. She said she thinks there is a lack of knowledge and communication to residents about various opportunities they have, like food drives and other programs, and that’s something she’d like to change.
“There’s Healthy Eats on Saturdays, where for the whole week, the kids can have a healthy meal, and I know half of the kids in the neighborhood have no clue that they can get healthy free meals most weekends right now,” she said. “It just goes to waste.”
Searcy said she’s ended up taking leftover food from food drives and driving it around to give to other people because enough people didn’t show up.
“We’re not maximizing the opportunities, and that’s just in the food area, but we don’t know what programs and resources that we can have, whether it’s assistance with our utility bills, or starting up a small business,” she said. “There are resources out here and I don’t believe that the citizens really understand that they have those opportunities to use those resources.”
As a councilperson, Searcy said she feels it would be her responsibility to be knowledgeable and aware of what’s going on, as a “first point of contact,” for the seventh ward.
“I want to be a liaison with the community and let them know this is going on in the seventh ward and that means period,” she said. “So, this is who is looking for employment, or employees, or these companies or businesses are offering services, food, whatever that may be.”
She said she’s going to have a newsletter for the ward communicating about these things, have town hall meetings, and continue posting on her website, here.
At a council candidate forum on July 8, Galloway called crime “the report card of the mayor.”
“It is the report card of an administration and that’s just real. I’ve been on council for eight years, and every year we hear that we don’t have enough police officers, and every year we hear that the police officers are not making enough money,” she said. “And yet every year, or every four years, however the contract is, the mayor negotiates with unions. And so if in fact, we are not paying our police officers enough money, are you telling me we don’t have the ability to look and see what the negotiation can be to find out what we can do?”
She also questioned the recruiting process.
“Where are we recruiting? Are we recruiting in the high schools? … I’m not saying that people should put their lives on the line, but there are people that love this community, so are we going out? They’re not coming to us,” she said. “And so the police chief is responsible for giving us a plan to reduce crime, and that’s not happening. And so the city council holds that office responsible for minimizing crime.”
Galloway was born and raised in San Diego, but moved to Flint with her husband and two sons in 1995. Of the 26 years she’s lived in Flint, 25 of them have been in the seventh ward. She’s been on the council since 2013, and is also the president of the Michigan Women in Municipal Government, and a member of the Michigan Municipal League Board of Trustees. She’s also a licensed realtor, and works part time at a local financial institution.
She said she decided to run for council after taking some of her neighborhood concerns to the council meetings.
“The incumbent who had served us well at that time decided he was not going to run for re-election and I decided to take a chance,” she said.
Galloway said the concerns she hears about the most from residents are about high water bills, blight, crime, lack of police presence, long police response times, and waste collections.
At the forum, Galloway said it was important for constituents to understand the councilperson’s role. For her, it’s to be a legislator.
“I can sit up here and tell you that I’m going to put more police officers on the street, but the reality is the role of a legislator is to allocate money. And so as a legislator … we don’t implement programs, we allocate the money for them,” she said. “We listen to the constituency. The budget is your money, it’s your checkbook.”
On her official Facebook page, Galloway posted campaign materials that list the ways she has voted regarding certain budget items. She opposed an increase in waste collection service costs for the most recent budget, water rate increases, and the 30-year Great Lakes Water Authority contract. She voted to allocate funds to senior centers, and advocated for increasing blight funds allocation.
At the candidate forum, Galloway said she would support the council taking part in budget training, and that in Flint, the council has “not scratched the surface on the budget.”
“It teaches you about how to allocate money, how to decide if you don’t have enough money, what do you do? How do you eliminate? Do you cut 10%? No, you don’t. You meet with other organizations that are doing what your municipality needs, and you fund them through grant programs,” she said. “And so we get caught up in a lot of Robert’s Rules, but the reality is we need to educate.”
Galloway said in order to be equitable in the development and allocation of money in the budget, it’s important to include the community in the process. She said the council shouldn’t have to lobby for things they know are needed.
“When you are in agreement that there is a need for a grocery store in certain areas, that is something that we shouldn’t have to lobby about. We should just know that that is the need of the community, and we get it done,” she said. “The other thing is making sure that those businesses or organizations know when the deadline is…and how to obtain those funds.”
Supporting residents with a functional council
Sarah Scheitler is the president of the Central Park Neighborhood Association in the seventh ward. She’s been a Flint resident for five years.
She said Galloway attends almost all of their neighborhood meetings and is responsive. The trouble is with the council itself.
“I think the thing that we all feel like is most lacking is a sort of sense of teamwork on the council itself, and with the city governments,” she said. “Acting professionally, and keeping personalities and personal business out of the meetings.”
She said her group and residents in her neighborhood work on projects to improve their community, and want a council person who supports them.
She gave the example of a home painting project, her neighborhood group was able to get grant funding for. The project allowed residents in the neighborhood, whether it was a rental home or homeowner occupied, to repaint their homes.
“So that’s protecting the quality of the housing in the neighborhood, and it’s also improving the look in the neighborhood,” she said. “We’ve also done some other improvements and seen a real increase in homes throughout our neighborhoods that have been improved.”
She said that her group’s work on homes led other people to jump on board and work on their homes as well, and she saw an increase in neighborhood pride.
“We feel like sometimes a lot of federal funding comes with very specific income and other requirements to have insurance and be up to date on taxes, and all of these things that sort of get in the way of actual progress in the city,” Scheitler said. “And so that’s something on the neighborhood level that we’re trying to get around by just doing what’s actually going to make a difference.”
To fully support the residents, Scheitler said the councilperson should work with neighborhoods, and with the rest of the council to get things done.
“Our councilperson has been helpful, but it’s sometimes limited because in council itself, and in the relationships with administration, the conflict gets in the way of actual work,” she said.
Flint resident Vicki Marx has lived in the seventh ward for 17 years and regularly attends council meetings for as long as she can stand them.
She said she would like to see the council stop the “racist name-calling crap,” and stop talking about their personal issues during the meetings.
“You get to a point where you start pulling your hair out because, you know, they’ve got nothing to do with the city business,” she said.
In addition to wanting her councilperson to push back against the Mott Foundation, and for-profit companies handling waste collection in the city, Marx said she wants the council to spend less time talking about each other, and more time talking about the city business.
“I listen to the meetings for as long as I can, and then when that stuff goes on and they start talking about city business, I have to stop,” she said.
Milton said she would like to see the council work with the administration as well.
“I’d like to see them try to resolve issues with the mayor, you know, there’s a lot of division, I think, and I would like them to come together to move the city forward,” Milton said. “Attend meetings, read up on resolutions or whatever is being presented, and take action. Not table everything, or show apathy.”
Herkenroder said it’s important for the council to remember that they are there to serve the community.
“I’m not going to engage in any personal politics, and instead, I’m going to actually work for the community and put the best interest of the community at heart instead of personal interest,” Herkenroder said. “So the new perspective I would bring is a community perspective, which is not what we’re experiencing right now with a lot of members on the council.”
Herkenroder said her responsibilities as a councilperson would be to first, serve the community. For her, that involves listening to complaints, concerns, and suggestions, communicating with residents and putting a plan in place to resolve the issue.
Second, she said her role is to keep the best interest of the whole city in mind, not just the seventh ward, which requires collaborating and cooperating with other members of council.
“I might not like someone on a personal level, but that doesn’t mean that I maybe don’t like their ideas or something like that. I’ll work with anybody as long as we’re all civil and we’re not engaging in petty personal politics and we can get the job done for our community,” she said. “Because at the end of the day, you need five votes before you can do anything.”
At the candidate forum, Galloway said this council has demonstrated that you can have five votes for something that is wrong.
“We all know that only five votes means that the body has made a decision. But what I will tell you is five votes doesn’t make it right,” she said. “And you can go back to any council meeting that you choose, and you will hear people read directly out of the charter, that something is wrong, and you will have five votes to support that which is wrong … the reality is a legislative body can decide to be wrong.”
Galloway said that conflict should not always be seen as a negative.
“You do need to be able to partner with your colleagues, and you do need to understand that sometimes conflict is not always bad. Sometimes it looks bad, but conflict can be good,” she said. “And at the end of a good conflict, you can come to some resolution. Sometimes that happens and sometimes that doesn’t, but you do need to be willing and you need to be a critical thinker.”
Searcy said she would like to see the council participate in team-building workshops, or get together on weekends to study up on various issues, and consult experts.
“We always can brush up on extra knowledge that can help us relay that information back to our community,” she said. “These are some things that can help us sharpen our skills, keep us in cahoots with what’s current, what’s best, and always be able to understand the charter. But we got to get back to inclusion and unity within the city council.”
She said the council needs to start acting like they’re on the same side, and remember that they all share common goals of improving the city.
“I think we all share the same issues. The issues might be magnified in different areas, but we all have those same issues, so I think that we have to do a better job of understanding that we’re on one side,” she said. “I just think we have to get to some inclusion, and the morale and morality around the council has got to get better… we can find unity within our ward, we can bring that to the table, and then collectively come to a better agreement that makes sense for everybody.”