- Flint, Michigan’s mayoral administration has frozen out the city council as questions mount about the city’s handling of $647 million in state and federal funds for its contaminated water crisis.
- On Wednesday, Aonie Gilcreast, a mayoral adviser who councilmen say essentially runs the city, declined to appear before the council unless represented by an attorney. The attorney then confronted a councilman and threatened to assault him.
- The city’s CFO also stormed off during questioning from the council and allegedly called an activist a “cocksucker.”
- National politicians and media frequently cite Flint, but there has been little coverage of how the city-led recovery efforts have played out on the ground.
A lawyer representing a top official of Flint, Michigan, threatened to assault a Flint city councilman during a council meeting on Wednesday, while a community activist said the city’s finance director called him a “cocksucker” at the previous city council meeting.
It is the latest example of the dysfunction of the local leadership of the sub-100,000-person city, whose officials were put in charge of spending nearly $700 million in state and local funds to fix problems with lead in water. (RELATED: ‘Violation’: Michigan Says The City Of Flint’s Mayor Hasn’t Bothered To Do Basic Tests Of Its Water For Lead)
National Democratic political figure frequently cite Flint as an example of injustice, but few national media outlets or politicians have shown interest in how $647 million in state and federal funds have been used, instead positioning Flint Mayor Karen Weaver as an expert.
Beset by allegations of bid-rigging to send recovery funds to a politically-connected firm owned by a former NBA player, and facing severe budget problems, Weaver’s administration — which previously froze out the only local paper — has now also begun refusing to provide information to the city council, council members said.
That was apparent in Wednesday’s meeting, when Aonie Gilcreast refused to talk to the city council except while represented by a lawyer, who was funded by taxpayers. Gilcreast — whose job is funded by a grant from the Kellogg Foundation — is nominally chief economic adviser, but city council member Kate Fields said he appears to have assumed outsized power that allowed him to give orders to all department heads.
His lawyer, Ken Scott, refused to cooperate with city Councilman Eric Mays, stormed off, and then returned and got within inches of Mays’ face, where he threatened to “crack you across the head.”
“Why are you walking up here on me? Get on, get away from me!” Mays said. “You’re out of order.”
“You won’t crack me across my head — And I’m gonna tell you what, I want this sent to the police. You ain’t crackin’ me across my head. You ain’t gonna threaten nobody in a public meeting because your man don’t want to answer a easy question,” Mays said.
The council had voted overwhelmingly to subpoena Gilcreast after Weaver’s administration attempted to rescind a contract from Goyette Mechanical, a local firm with high-tech equipment to repair water lines, and give it instead to WT Stevens, a general construction firm that has torn up the city using backhoes instead of far less invasive tools designed for accessing water pipes.
Meeting minutes reveal that Gilcreast previously threatened “trouble” from him if schedulers didn’t assign earlier work to WT Stevens instead of Goyette or other contractors, even though WT Stevens was still behind on earlier repairs.
In Wednesday’s meeting, Mays recounted the Goyette-WT Stevens issue: “We asked Rob Bincsik [Director of Public Works] who made that decision and he said him and his deputy … then we decided to subpoena him and put him under oath, and his testimony changed. He said the ‘higher ups’ made that decision — the ‘higher ups’ he identified were [Gilcreast] and [City Manager Steve] Branch, the record will show. During that same period of time we had department heads refusing to come to council meetings.”
Angela Wheeler, the city’s top attorney, told the council she decided to hire an outside lawyer as a buffer between Gilcreast and the City Council. “You feel you have to protect him from us?” Mays asked her.
Mays then attempted to have Gilcreast say under oath who had instructed department heads not to come to council meetings. Scott became combative, saying “Don’t interrupt me when I’m talking! Don’t do that!” and stormed out with Gilcreast.
Council members then said they would subpoena the mayor, and Scott returned and came within inches of Mays.
Mays said he suspected the angry walkout was staged as a way to quickly get Gilcreast off the stand where he was under oath. Scott, Mays alleges, would have known that Mays would escalate a tense situation because Mays himself is known for outbursts.
Councilman Maurice Davis — a defender of the mayor who on a radio show on Aug. 17 attacked Weaver’s Democratic mayoral opponent as “dumb nigga” and “token nigga” — took Scott’s side against his council colleague.
“You don’t talk to department heads any kind of way,” he said at Wednesday’s council meeting after the blowup. “Y’all lucky it don’t be like in them other communities, when somebody unload on some of these fools sitting up here disrespecting. It might not be Mr. Scott, but it could be his kin. We better be careful.”
“Point of order, I don’t think we should advocate violence,” Mays said.
Council Member Kate Fields said “I think the State Bar Association might have something to say about [Scott’s threats]. I’m kind of upset if that’s the type of outside counsel we retain,” she said. Bar association records show he previously had his license suspended in 2015.
Next, city Finance Director Tamar Lewis took the stand and immediately began snapping at council members before storming off. “And that is exactly why we need a qualified finance director,” Fields responded.
Arthur Woodson, a community activist who has railed against apparent corruption in Flint, then spoke. “The city employees are just as bad. Last council meeting, Tamar Lewis called me an ‘asshole and a cocksucker.’ None of y’all said anything. … I don’t even know how she’s working here.”
Woodson told the Daily Caller News Foundation: “I was in the back of the council chambers and I told her I didn’t like the auditors they were bringing in. I said this company is being sued for missing fraud, that should be a problem on a background check. And she called me an asshole. Then she was talking to the purchasing manager and said ‘I hate that cocksucker.’ There were two other witnesses.”
Several finance directors have quit in recent months, its auditing firm quit, and no other auditing firm responded to a solicitation. The city then approached another firm that is currently being sued for allegedly failing to detect fraud in a neighboring city, and hired it.
Newly obtained documents also described an incident the night Weaver prevailed in a 2017 recall election in which a former mayor — who is a staunch backer of Weaver — allegedly physically assaulted Sheldon Neeley, the state representative who is now Weaver’s chief opponent in the November election.
Woodrow Stanley, a former mayor in the early 2000s under whom the city went deeply into debt — leading to a control board and the decision to switch water supplies to save money — allegedly cursed at Neeley, who had not endorsed Weaver, at an election-night party. “Stanley aggressively approached me and grabbed my tie which he jerked and held firmly. He continued shouting his profanity… members of the public intervened and separated us. I asked his wife [Reta Stanley] ‘what is wrong with your husband?’ She replied ‘he is a very angry man,'” Neeley wrote in a letter to Police Chief Tim Johnson and City Manager Steve Branch, both Weaver appointees.
Branch responded, “This is not a City of Flint issue. Please do not included [sic] me on any future correspondence on this.”
The incident has not been previously reported, and Neeley gave the documents to Woodson this week.
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