Laborious eight-hour city council committee meeting discusses council rules and North Flint food market
By Tom Travis
It took the city council’s finance committee eight hours on Wednesday night to navigate their way through a contentious meeting. The agenda contained 10 resolutions for discussion, but the board spent most of the eight hours discussing, arguing and fighting over two resolutions in particular.
One resolution was to set a date for a public hearing to get residents’ input on the rules that govern city council. The other was a resolution to allocate $600,000 of the city’s $94 million federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) stimulus funds to the North Flint Food Market (NFFM). The NFFM discussion was a carryover from last week’s City Council meeting and details of that meeting are noted at the end of this article.
Rules Governing City Council Meetings
The City Council has been planning for years, since 2017, to revise the set of established rules for conducting its meetings. Council rules are largely based on a set of standard national rules for local governing bodies. Each governing body across the country changes the rules as it sees fit.
These rules, once established, would be the “holy grail” from which council meetings would operate. But at Wednesday’s meeting, even city council members themselves weren’t sure what set of rules they should follow. Various versions of the board’s rules have been circulating for years.
Council Chairman Eric Mays (Ward 1), who often refers to council rules almost fondly as “those goofy rules”, spoke. Mays held up a green folder containing a draft version from 2017 and asked the board, “Aren’t these the rules we follow?”
Councilors Tonya Burns (Ward 6) and Allie Herkenroder (Ward 7) answered “no”. Councilor Judy Priestley explained that the set of rules in the green folder were never approved by council.
Herkenroder explained that the rules to be discussed and those the board currently adheres to are listed in the agenda folder.
This set of rules can be viewed here on pages 5-24 of the agenda.
Council eventually voted, 7-2, to set a date for a public hearing on the rules governing council to remain on the finance committee’s agenda for two weeks.
It’s “whiter” in your neighborhood
Mays argued that council treats projects that come before council differently based on a project’s location in the city. He waved to Councilman Dennis Pfeiffer (Ward 8) and said Pfeiffer’s ward on the south end of Flint was “whiter” than his ward (Ward 1) on the north end.
Mays added, for example, that the NFFM is more heavily “reviewed” and “screened” by the board for the same issues that were raised for a $300,000 change order on a Miller Road reconstruction project. [in Pfeiffer’s south Flint Ward 8] scheduled for next year.
Mays admitted he planned to vote to approve the change order, but noted that he thought different projects in different parts of the city were treated differently by council.
Mays added that he’s not afraid to speak “outright.”
$600,000 for North Flint Food Market Council to vote to stay on commission
For the next five hours, the group debated the resolution to allocate $600,000 of the city’s $94 million ARPA funds to the proposed North Flint Food Market (NFFM).
Initially, Councilwoman Eva Worthing (Ward 9) moved a motion to have the resolution dropped. At last week’s board meeting, Worthing had a heated exchange with NFFM representative Pastor Bernard Drew.
Worthing explained that the reason she made a motion to drop the resolution is that “we are still holding our neighborhood ARPA meetings. Also, the process for businesses and non-profits will be that they apply and then they will all be considered at once.
“I think it would open the city up to litigation if we just started making resolutions on our own without having a proper process in place,” Worthing said. “I would like to avoid the city having to spend money on this. It’s just not fair to other businesses and nonprofits who want to apply.
Councilman Herkenroder (Ward 7) added, “It is fiscally irresponsible of us to resolve piecemeal resolution after resolution and spend this money as if it were $94 and not $94 million. . We owe it to ourselves, we owe it to the city, and we owe it to our constituents to have a comprehensive plan before we start voting on anything ARPA.
Councilman Pfeiffer (Ward 8) said, “I want to warn my colleagues who say they won’t be voting for ARPA dollars until there’s, we’ll call it, a ‘ master plan “. I think it’s reckless and let me tell you why. The administration or any administration is not ready to deploy $94 million all at once. It makes sense to do a staggered start.
“It makes sense to approve things as you go and figure things out when you have 20-30% of the money left,” Pfeiffer argued. “To sit here and say you’re going to ‘die on a hill’ and you’re going to vote no on anything because there’s no ‘blueprint’, you’re just hurting your constituents. There are people hurting in the community, but you don’t want to vote on anything until you’ve seen every dollar allocated.
“Meanwhile, people are suffering. You’re going to vote no on money once in a generation and God bless you with those reminder ballots if you vote no on something your constituents really care about. I would really, really warn people about that,” he said.
“He thinks there are people who realize that coming up with a ‘master plan’ and rolling it out all at once and having the compliance firm and the administration trying to manage $94 million at the same time is I will not be voting to abandon this resolution.
Pastor Bernard Drew tells council why $600,000
At last Monday’s council meeting, with a large number of NFFM members and supporters in attendance, Pastor Bernard Drew, pastor of West Court Street Church of God, said he was there on behalf of Pastor Reginald Flynn who was the executive director of North Flint Food Market (NFFM).
Drew explained that Flynn asked him to attend Monday’s board meeting to represent him and the Food Market management. After Drew spoke briefly, Worthing told Drew, “I sense hostility.” Audible “moans” were heard from the audience.
Afterwards, Worthing argued that Flynn no longer resides in Michigan, to which she was quickly interrupted by Drew stating that Flynn was only out of state due to a previously scheduled trip. Councilman Quincy Murphy took the floor to reaffirm that Flynn lives in the Third Ward (the neighborhood that Murphy represents).
Worthing then asked for audited financial statements for the board to review. Drew replied, “Absolutely.” Drew clarified to Worthing that NFFM’s financial statements had been provided to the board before, but he would be happy to provide them again.
Worthing asked: “How much money was spent on administration costs and salaries?” Drew said: “What we’re going to do is provide you with these audited financial statements.”
Drew then explained the reason for the $600,000. He said the original cost estimate to open an “efficiently run” grocery store was $1 million. “Because of the pandemic, so many prices went up, which was out of our control.
“Once again,” he said, “our financial statements have been audited by the State of Michigan and numerous financing institutions [which include The Ruth Mott Foundation, The Community Foundation of Greater Flint and the C.S. Mott Foundation].”
Drew explained that due to the increase in equipment, it is estimated that it would cost $2.5 million to open the store. Financing institutions have agreed to fill the gap, he said.
Referring to some of the community representatives sitting behind him, Drew said the community had “taken its own initiative to change its own cityscape”. adding, “Any vote outside of that is an indication that that council person does not share that belief.”
Worthing replied, “Wow.”
Drew contacted Flynn by cellphone while he was on the podium during Monday’s meeting. Flynn was allowed to address the council via his cell phone. Drew held the cellphone speaker in front of the microphone and Flynn addressed the council.
Flynn clarified that he lives in the Third Ward and ministers in Flint. Flynn explained that the North Flint Food Market is a $7 million project funded by “multiple sources.”
Flynn said that in order for the project to move forward, financial statements must be provided to the federal government (USDA), the state of Michigan as well as local funding institutions. Flynn explained at this point that there is one employee, the general manager of the store.
EVM Editor Tom Travis can be reached at [email protected]