Flint, MI – For Dakota Starr, moving to Flint in 2017 was a great opportunity to become involved in local government.

He was active in the school board and congressional election last year and the council election the year before. Now, he is one of 12 Flint residents appointed to serve on Flint’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Community Advisory Committee.

The committee is made up of at least one representative from each of Flint’s nine wards, though Wards 2, 4 and 8 have two representatives. Starr is the Ward 6 representative.

“The ARPA funds is a very unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our city,” he said. “We can do a lot of really good things with it if we actually make sure that it’s spent properly.”

Starr and the other 11 committee members will be responsible for making recommendations for $15.6 million of Flint’s ARPA funding, which was set aside for community grants last year.

The committee’s main priority areas are projects in economic development, neighborhood improvement, public health and public safety/youth development, areas determined through listening sessions the mayor and council hosted throughout the city in 2022 according to City Council Vice President Ladel Lewis.

Lewis, who is also on council’s ARPA Ad-Hoc Committee and assisted in the committee selection process, said the idea for the committee originated after looking at how other municipalities like Detroit went through their ARPA funding process.

“You can’t do anything for the community without the community,” she said.

The advisory committee’s recommendations will be reviewed by the mayor and Flint City Council, who will make the final decision, City Communications Director Caitie O’Neill wrote in an email.

“There are many applications in varying stages of completion in the online system,” O’Neill wrote, referring to the ARPA application portal which launched Jan. 23. Technical assistance providers are working with applicants to help them through the process, she added.

Lewis said the advisory committee will be broken into subcommittees to tackle the different priority areas. The subcommittees will need to decide when to meet based on availability, but Lewis said they will likely meet at least once a week.

Aside from Lewis, the group that selected the advisory committee members included Flint City Councilwoman Judy Priestley, Chief Resilience Officer Lottie Ferguson and members of the philanthropic community, Priestley confirmed to Flint Beat.

That group selected members through a “blind” selection process, meaning the applicants’ names and other identifying information were redacted, though the applications were sorted into wards to ensure representation, O’Neill wrote.

A scoring rubric was then used to evaluate applicants’ knowledge of the City of Flint, areas of expertise and community involvement —with special focus on the already-identified ARPA priority areas.

“Applicants were scored on their responses to questions about their motivation for serving on the committee; experience and expertise in housing & blight elimination, economic development, public safety and crime prevention, and/or public health; involvement in other community boards or committees; commitment to racial equity; and time commitment,” O’Neill wrote in an email.

Applicants who scored the highest in these areas were offered spots on the committee.

Lewis said the city is reaching out to applicants who did not make the committee to see if they are interested in serving the city in a different capacity.

“We have a lot of vacancies on boards in Flint and we need qualified [people], we need excited [people]. We need those folks to help us move the city forward,” she said.

The committee members will serve for up to six months and will receive a stipend for their time, courtesy of the Community Foundation of Greater Flint. The amount has not been determined yet, O’Neill wrote.

O’Neill wrote that the committee will likely start meeting within the next two weeks.

The ARPA Community Advisory Committee members are as follows:

  • Nadine Roberts – Ward 1
  • Daphne Epps – Ward 2
  • Peggy Stribling – Ward 2
  • Leon EL-Alamin – Ward 3
  • Anne O’Rourke-Bean – Ward 4
  • Ramie Yelle – Ward 4
  • Raul Vargas – Ward 5
  • Dakota Starr – Ward 6
  • April Cook-Hawkins – Ward 7
  • Shareka Howard – Ward 8
  • Phyllis McCree – Ward 8
  • Shan Buckley – Ward 9

For his part, Starr said he is focused on being optimistic and excited for what the funding could mean for the whole city, instead of just going to downtown or wealthy neighborhoods.

Sophia is Flint Beat's City Hall reporter. She joins the team after previously reporting for the Livingston Daily and the Lansing State Journal, along with some freelance work with The New York Times....