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—For the second city council election in a row, Eva Worthing is running unopposed in Flint’s ninth ward.
Worthing has lived in Flint for a little over six years, but as her mother was raised here she’s been in and around the city her whole life. She’s a single mother, and a middle school social studies teacher. When she officially moved to Flint with her son and infant daughter, she decided to run for council due to her concerns about the water.
She said she saw posts on social media of Flint residents’ experiences with the water, and didn’t feel like the government was listening to them.
“When I moved here with an infant, I took every precaution and used bottled water for my daughter’s formula, and I really felt for the mothers who didn’t have that option, and fed their babies or children the water,” she said. “Lead is the worst on children. It’s irreversible damage. So, I wanted to run for council because I wanted the people to have a voice, and not be overlooked, and so it’s really the water crisis that inspired me to become involved.”
Worthing was the only name on the ballot in 2017 after Scott Kincaid, who had been on the council for more than 30 years, withdrew his name to run for mayor.
This time around, her two challengers were among the 18 residents who filed petitions to run for council, but were disqualified by the city clerk.
While the water is still an issue, crime and blight are now her major concerns. Ninth ward residents say those are the main issues they’re facing too.
Flint’s ninth ward is located in the southeastern corner of Flint, covering 3.3 square miles. It is home to Flint Golf Club, Thread Lake, and multiple parks. Freeman Elementary School and the International Academy of Flint are also located in this ward.
According to a report from the University of Michigan-Flint, in 2017, the ward had a population of approximately 12,000 residents. Of that population, 57% are white, 37% are Black, and 3% are Hispanic, the report shows.
It is named the second oldest ward in this report, with a median age of 37. The median household income in 2017 was $29,300, with 39% of the population living in poverty, according to the study.
In addition to wanting the city council to address blight and crime, ninth ward residents say they want their councilperson to be involved in the community.
Blight, garbage pick up, and neighborhood issues
Shareka Howard was born and raised in Flint, and has been taking care of Windiate Park in the ninth ward for the past ten years.
“We took our kids to the park and saw that there was no safe area, and that the park for the kids to play wasn’t safe,” Howard said. “So, if we felt it wasn’t safe for our kids, we knew safety for other kids was not there as well. So we just started by just picking up and cleaning the park.”
It started off as a way to create a clean, safe space for her children to play, but eventually developed into more. She started Howard’s Helping Hands, an organization dedicated to volunteering and working with the community, and in 2014, became an official adopter of the park after being approached by Keep Genesee County Beautiful.
Howard says there are lots of things that need to be done in the ninth ward. A big issue, she said, has been waste collection services.
“It’s hard when we as volunteers, we go out, and we clean, and we pick up trash, and we do everything that needs to be done in the community for ourselves and for our community, but we have city electives and other people that have the capacity to pay for things to get stuff done, and it’s not being done properly or fitting the needs of residents,” Howards said. “It’s hurtful.”
She said when the garbage doesn’t get collected, it ends up becoming blight all over again.
“It’s reflected back to us because people want to find a site to go dump it at, and unfortunately one of those sites is one of the city of Flint parks, or a vacant lot that’s next to the park, or a vacant lot next to one of our houses, and it needs to be handled,” Howard said.
Vacant lots are another big problem in the ward, Howard said.
According to the Flint Property Portal, 80% of the 4,132 properties in the ninth ward are listed as being in “good” condition. There are 536 properties listed as “fair,” 202 listed as “poor,” and 77 listed as “sub-standard.”
While most of the properties are in good condition, there are 869 lots that are vacant, according to the property portal. The portal shows that in the ninth ward, 225 demolitions have been completed, and there are 69 properties listed for demolition, 19 of which are funded.
“These vacant houses seem to not be getting taken care of. We understand that the vacant houses are empty and everything, but we live in this community, we live in the neighborhood,” she said. “And when you can’t come and cut the grass, or keep them down to where our neighborhood is good, then there’s the issue.”
Worthing said most of the calls she gets from her constituents are about blight, or issues they’re having with their neighbors.
“Maybe a neighbor has too many dogs, and they’re loud, that type of thing, or there’s music playing in the middle of the night, really loud, or cars parked illegally on lawns,” Worthing said. “So, those are issues that my constituents care about the most because that’s what they deal with daily.”
In those situations, Worthing said she calls whatever department is appropriate for the situation, and the residents can be ticketed.
“That’s when the behavior stops a lot of times, when they’re fined,” she said. “But it’s not always followed up with, and then the resident, you know, will just throw that ticket out the window.”
Worthing said the blight department needs more blight officers and funding, and that more building inspections, and actually ticketing residents may be a way for the city to get money to actually fund the departments that they need to fund.
“We have to do a better job of following up, taking them to court. That’s where we make the money to continue going on and making sure that the city stays clean and a nice place for all of us to live,” she said.
Worthing said crime is a big issue for her ward even though gun violence may not be as prevalent in the ninth ward as it is in other parts of the city.
“Even if it’s not that shootings are always happening in the ward, you hear about them, it makes you nervous, or you hear sharp gunshots in the neighborhood sometimes,” she said. “And even crime that’s not gunshots, or shootings, it’s speeding through the neighborhood, and that’s endangering children.”
Worthing said that while the city needs more police officers, the current budget makes it difficult to attain.
“Unfortunately, we lack the police force that we need, and we can’t hire an unlimited amount of police. Our budget does not allow for that, so it’s a problem that needs to be solved,” Worthing said.
Art Wenzlaff said that’s exactly how his neighborhood group feels about the issue.
Wenzlaff is the president of the South Side Business & Residential Association, which has been in place since 2001. The group holds meetings once a month, and organizes clean ups and other projects around the city.
He said crime, like in all other wards in the city, is a big concern in the ninth ward, and that he and others in the neighborhood group would like to see more of a police presence.
“We believe that there should be more police officers, but of course, we can’t add new officers or additional officers if there isn’t money provided to pay for those folks,” Wenzlaff said.
Worthing said the money obtained from ticketing residents for various ordinance violations could also be used to fight crime.
“If we ticket people, and hold inspections, and actually make money for the city, then maybe we can hire more police full time,” she said.
Worthing is also hoping the American Rescue Plan funds can be used to deal with crime, although she wants the council to take their time to figure out how the funds can and can’t be used.
“We have the legal team looking into this, and we want to spend the money correctly, because if we don’t, we have to pay it all back,” she said. “So, I know there were several council members that were jumping on the chance to spend it, but I am more cautious, because I don’t want to rush to a quick decision and spend it wrongly, and then be in a situation where we get nothing.”
Worthing said her constituents are understanding of that.
“It’s a very ‘common sense’ ward. I think they would rather it goes through the proper process, so no one’s been itching to spend it. They kind of know that it’s got to be vetted, we have to really take our time,” she said. “People have said they want more officers, but it’s not, ‘Use the COVID money for this or that’, it’s just in general what they wanted to see from the city.”
Role of a councilperson
Worthing said some of her main responsibilities as a councilperson are to attend meetings, vote on important issues, and work together with the rest of council. That last one has been a challenge, she said.
“I think there are several council members that have made it very political, and really just have created a nasty environment to work in,” she said.
She compared the council to a divorce with children.
“If you have children, and you don’t like each other, you still get along, and work together for your children,” she said. “We don’t have to like each other, but we still have to work together to make the city better. It’s about our residents, and I think many have forgotten that we’re here to help our residents not be this big political, big man.”
Worthing said when the city council itself can be disheartening, Flint residents inspire her.
“I don’t see an impoverished city, I see a group of people working really hard, trying their best and who are generally positive, and want to see this city succeed,” she said.
Another part of her role as a councilperson is answering constituent calls, and listening to their complaints and ideas, she said.
“I think residents have great ideas, and I think all too often when people get into a position of power, they stop listening,” she said. “I would hate to ever do that because they may know more about an issue than I do because they’re living it.”
Wenzlaff said Worthing attends the neighborhood meetings whenever she can, and listens to what the residents have to say. That’s one of his main expectations for a councilperson, he said.
“We’d like to see them be hands-on. They have to go to their council meetings, and serve on their committees, but for meetings and events in their particular ward, their presence would be appreciated,” Wenzlaff said. “I know there are constant conflicts with other meetings or obligations, and I understand that, but certainly an effort to attend and put their hands on the community and just be aware of things.”
Being involved in the neighborhood is a must for Howard, too.
“I mean you have to be in the community, be known in the community, and actually do the work in the community,” she said.
Howard said that with her organization, there are lots of events that she would expect her councilperson to attend and support. She also said there are so many different areas in the ninth ward, that it’s important for the councilperson to be involved in all of the ninth ward, not just certain neighborhoods.
“Some would say, certain areas that certain people live in are way more privileged, or that their neighborhood doesn’t seem like it’s considered Flint because of the way it looks,” she said. “They would consider our neighborhood more of a hood area, but I mean, it’s all Flint. If you’re going to be a councilperson for the ninth ward, you need to be involved and support the neighbors as a whole.”