Flint, MI– A special finance committee meeting Monday night resulted in a vote to subpoena 12 city officials, and hold an investigative hearing to continue the budget process on Thursday.
The Flint City Council met to continue working on the city’s proposed budget for FY 2022 and 2023, but over the course of six hours, that is not what happened.
Council President Kate Fields made a motion early on in the meeting to approve the budget as is, but that vote failed with 4 yes votes and 5 no votes.
Half of the divided council supported the budget as is, and didn’t feel the need to make amendments to it, or discuss how an incoming $94.7 million in federal funds would be incorporated, since the money has not yet been received.
The other half of the council viewed this meeting as a “work meeting,” and had the expectation of discussing the budget and incoming federal funds further.
“This is a finance committee meeting. You mean to tell me there is not gonna be no discussion on finances? We got about $100 million coming into this community that we’re just gonna totally ignore?” Councilman Maurice Davis said. “I’m really disheartened…my colleague in the fourth ward is ready to ram this through whatever way she wants to,” he continued, referring to Fields.
From there, the meeting took a series of interesting turns.
Councilman Eric Mays proposed drafting a resolution to move $60,000 from the fund balance into the City Clerk’s Office. City Clerk Inez Brown requested $40,000, and funding for a new position in the elections division, at the last budget hearing on May 12.
Fields and Councilwoman Eva Worthing said they thought this resolution was unnecessary. They were not in attendance at the previous budget hearing when Brown made this request.
“Our general fund is severely lacking, and I don’t feel like this is a needed expense at this moment,” Worthing said. “And honestly…I’m comfortable passing the budget as is, because we are about to get some stimulus funds.”
Councilman Mays said he was comfortable moving money from the fund balance to the Clerk’s Office for that exact reason.
He asked why the city could not add those funds to the budget now, since they know the money is coming in.
Chief Financial Officer Shelbi Frayer said the funds were supposed to be received last week, and didn’t know what the delay was. The funds are expected to be received before the first Monday in June, the deadline for the budget to be adopted.
But Frayer and City Attorney Angela Wheeler said the incoming federal funds could not be included in the budget for the upcoming fiscal year until the funds are actually received and council votes to receive them. Mays said he disagreed, and called that a “bogus interpretation,” of the charter.
Without the inclusion of the federal funds, Mays asked if Frayer or anybody “had a problem” drafting a resolution to move funds from the fund balance to the Clerk’s Office. Frayer said she didn’t have a problem, but that she serves “at the pleasure of the mayor,” and was trying to follow the rules.
The motion passed with a vote of 5 to 4, but the difficulty it took to get to that point sparked calls for subpoenas and an investigative budget hearing.
Fields made a motion that the council not be allowed to pass any resolution the city attorney deems illegal. It failed with 4 yes votes and 5 no votes. Councilwoman Monica Galloway, who voted no, said she thought the resolution was just an attempt to manipulate future votes.
Mays then said he thought the council ought to go into “investigative hearing mode” as it relates to the budget process. He said he felt like the administration, who said at the beginning of the meeting they were only there to listen, were being told not to answer questions or talk.
Mays made a motion to subpoena Frayer and City Administrator Clyde Edwards to a second special finance committee meeting on Thursday at 4:30 p.m.
Fields said the only subpoena she’d like to see is one for two council members who she said were trying to stop a land sale that has been brought before the council, due to connections she alleged they had with a lower bidder.
Following Fields, Worthing then made a substitute motion to subpoena Mays and Councilman Herbert Winfrey at this meeting for that reason.
Mays said he had no problem being subpoenaed, and then made a third motion to subpoena more people to the meeting: Worthing, Fields, Councilman Santino Guerra, Councilman Allan Griggs, Mayor Sheldon Neeley, Director of Planning and Development Suzanne Wilcox, City Treasurer Amanda Trujillo, and Director of Transportation John Daly.
Fields attempted to make a motion to reconsider, which prompted Councilwoman Monica Galloway to ask the City Attorney about how she could file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for text messages between Fields, Worthing, and Griggs. She said she believed they were communicating and coordinating motions and votes during the meeting.
In turn, Fields said she would like to FOIA for Galloway’s emails and text messages regarding another matter.
Guerra, the chair of the meeting, called the whole meeting “heartbreaking” and “petty.”
With a vote of 5 to 4, the council approved the subpoenas and set the meeting for Thursday evening.