Flint, MI–Members of the Flint City Council have been requesting for months that Mayor Sheldon Neeley attend a council meeting. After he attended the Sept. 28 meeting, some councilmembers were disappointed.
Neeley, who had been on council for more than a decade before becoming mayor, was reluctant to answer questions and instead, requested he share an update regarding COVID-19.
“I was invited to provide a public update, and I will not engage in a public dispute,” Neeley said in the virtual meeting.
Councilman Eric Mays attempted to ask Neeley the first question: had Neeley heard about the State of Emergency ordinance that required the mayor to convene expediently with council, yes or no?
Neeley responded by saying he was, “very well versed on all rules, regulations of law.”
“I sat on the council longer than any person that’s sitting here currently,” Neeley said. “We must work together from this extraordinarily difficult time in order to serve the constituency. What I’d like to do and what I will do to go forth is give an update to my co-equal branch of government.”
Mays asked about the emergency ordinance because Neeley had not yet met with the council publicly and “expediently” to discuss COVID-19, which the ordinance requires.
The mayor is not normally required to come to council meetings, but in Section 14-17 of Flint’s Code of Ordinances, it states that in a state of emergency, the mayor “shall as soon as reasonably expedient, convene the Council to perform its legislative and administrative duties as the situation demands, and shall report to the body relative to emergency activities.”
Neeley did say he had “been meeting with many council people, having a dialogue with many council people,” outside of council meetings, but Council President Monica Galloway claimed he only reached out to “certain council people” and that they “all know that.”
Councilman Herbert Winfrey said he invited Neeley “to have a conversation with [council] about the emergency” that is COVID-19, after many talks of subpoenaing the mayor took place during council meetings.
“I think he answered the question, but for some councilmembers, I don’t think that it was satisfactory,” Winfrey said after the meeting regarding Mays’s question about the emergency ordinance.
He said he understood why Neeley didn’t answer the question with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no.’
“I didn’t invite him to be interrogated, I invited him to share information and dialogue with us if there was a need,” he said.
But other council people interpreted Neeley’s answers differently.
Galloway said she was “disappointed,” in his response to Mays’s question about the emergency ordinance and his request to provide an update rather than be questioned.
“I’m not going to usurp the authority that each of us as council people have to ask their question…and I’m really disappointed because the question is a simple yes or no question,” Galloway said. “This can be a very quick process and now it’s turned into a 13-minute dialogue on a question that’s yes or no.”
“Are you saying that you’re not willing to engage or answer any questions? That you simply would like the floor to give an update?”
When Neeley confirmed he would like to provide an update and “not engage in no type of interrogation”, Galloway said he could “spin the narrative any way” he wanted to, and that she did not “need any answers” from him.
Councilman Mays called the whole situation “ridiculous.”
“Mr. Neeley, what’s wrong with answering the question?,” Mays asked. “You have a duty and a responsibility to answer questions. You are the executive, we are the legislative branch.”
After arguments back and forth regarding what Neeley’s role should be in the meeting and a point of order called by Councilwoman Kate Fields where she called Mays’s questioning “rude,” Mays offered to hear Neeley’s update and then ask questions and discuss.
For seven uninterrupted minutes, Neeley discussed various COVID-19 efforts the city is implementing including installation of new election drop boxes, water delivery services and hazard pay.
Then, Mays requested Galloway put a stop to his update to allow for questions. But as he responded to questions, Mays said he was “being evasive.”
When Mays asked why it took “seven months, deep into a pandemic” for Neeley to come to a meeting, Neeley said he could not answer because of the lawsuit Mays recently filed against the city.
“Anything that you may present in a fashion that could be used in litigation against this community, I will not engage [in,]” Neeley said.
“That lawsuit was filed about two weeks ago, Sept. 11. We’ve been trying to get you up since March,” Mays said.
When Mays asked if there has been COVID-19 testing at City Hall, Neeley told him to “look at some of the records of council because [it] approved the policies and procedures as it relates to COVID-19,” and then proceeded to talk about the fight on blight.
“I’m concerned about blight, Mr. Neeley, but I asked you a COVID-19 testing question, please,” Mays said.
He tried to continue to discuss the fight on blight, but Galloway asked him to stop.
“Mayor Neeley please stop, you’re before the public, you were on COVID-19,” she said. “If you don’t want to answer these questions, let’s just say that.”
Neeley eventually answered, although he said answering was “against [his] better judgment,” that the city has spent “more than $20,000 of city resources” on tests and screening for employees. But when Mays asked when the last test was done, Neeley said he had to leave to attend a call with the governor about COVID-19.
“I gave you more than an hour,” he said, excusing himself.
“You filibustered for more than an hour and the people see it,” Mays said. “That ain’t even no good.”
When asked for comment about the meeting, the city provided this statement:
“Mayor Neeley was invited by Councilman Winfrey to provide an update about the current emergency during the Council meeting. Even Councilman Mays noted that he wanted to allow the mayor to speak. However, the mayor was then interrupted repeatedly both during his update and when trying to answer questions. The mayor indeed did answer questions after providing the update, but again was repeatedly interrupted and talked over.”
Fields said she didn’t think “any answer would have satisfied [Mays.]”
“I don’t think he genuinely was seeking information. I think he was seeking to create chaos and disruption,” Fields said. “He’s not a supporter of the mayor, I think he deliberately did that so he could bash the mayor.”
When asked if she had any questions for the mayor, Fields said she could just call him if she did.
“The mayor is very accessible. I don’t need a council meeting for that, personally,” she said.
Mays said things do need to be discussed in meetings.
“We operate under the Open Meetings Act,” he said. “I don’t care who you meet with in private. Now we’re in a meeting, ready to discuss city business.”
He said it’s council’s job to ask questions.
“If you read the city charter, one of the greatest powers city council has is to inquire and investigate,” Mays said. “So whether he wanted council to ask him questions or not, that’s our right, that’s our duty under the charter. I don’t care what he don’t want, I know what my job is.”
“No city council member should apologize for asking questions or checking it out,” he said.
Mays said he will continue requesting the mayor’s presence and cooperation at meetings, and will ask that he be subpoenaed if he doesn’t come.
To watch the meeting in full, click here. Neeley’s interaction with the council at the 16:15 mark.