Flint, MI– The Flint City Council is proposing a change to the way that American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding can be spent, after learning Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley’s administration spent just under $75,000 of it without their approval.
During a May 12, 2022, budget hearing, the council learned that 50 speed humps were purchased using $74,570 of the funding.
Although the City Charter allows the mayor’s office to spend under $75,000 without council approval, the council believed spending of the multi-million-dollar grant needed to be authorized by them.
“I didn’t think that the mayor would spend these historical funds without our approval,” said Flint City Councilwoman Ladel Lewis during their regular council meeting on May 23. “I was under the impression that the funds would go through us and we would work together. Clearly, we’re not working together.”
At the May 23 meeting, Flint City Councilman Quincy Murphy and Flint City Councilwoman Judy Priestley presented a resolution that would require council approval for ARPA fund spending. While all council members present agreed this resolution was necessary, they voted to send it back to the Grants Committee meeting for further work.
In March 2021, the city learned that it would be receiving $94.7 million dollars in COVID-19 relief as part of a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus package intended to aid the country in recovering from the pandemic.
The council approved a resolution accepting the grant in June 2021, which stated: “It is resolved that the appropriate City officials are hereby authorized to do all things necessary to appropriate grant funding and abide by terms and conditions of the grant from the United States Department of Treasury.”
The city’s Chief Financial Officer Robert Widigan stated that this resolution, along with the Charter’s purchasing ordinance, allowed the mayor’s office to spend the funds under $75,000 without council’s approval.
The resolution proposed on May 23 would require “every award, allocation, and/or expenditure of ARPA funds, arising after the adoption of this resolution,” to have “approval and authorization of the City Council and the Mayor.”
“I think this resolution just protects our money and protects where the money is being spent. At this point in time, we really don’t know how much of the ARPA dollars are actually being spent without the approval of council,” Murphy said.
But some members took issue with the language in the resolution requiring approval from both the council and the mayor.
Flint City Councilman Eric Mays said he was in favor of a resolution limiting the mayor’s ability to spend ARPA funds without council approval, but he wouldn’t vote to support the resolution as written.
“I’m not going to give up the purse-string power and the veto process to the mayor. … The charter is the charter,” Mays said. “We vote, we approve millions of dollars. If he objects, he’ll veto it.”
Flint City Councilwoman Jerri Winfrey-Carter agreed and said the language requiring mayoral approval should be taken out. She explained that typically, the mayor’s office brings the council resolutions, already signed off on by the mayor, and it’s the council’s job to approve them.
“That’s taking away our power to do what it is that we’re supposed to do as trustees of the city,” she said about the language in the resolution.
Priestley admitted that while the intent of the resolution was to prevent the mayor from spending ARPA funds without council’s approval, the resolution seemed to indicate that there needed to be approval from both parties.
She said she would be fine with working with her colleagues on the resolution to fix the language, but didn’t want that process to take too long.
“As long as we can get this resolution passed in a timely manner so that we can stop any potential spending without council approval,” Priestley said.
The council ultimately voted 6-0 to send the resolution to the Grants Committee meeting next Wednesday, June 1. Murphy, Councilwoman Eva Worthing, and Councilman Dennis Pfeiffer were not present for the vote.