Ethics expert explores solutions to dysfunction during Flint City Council meetings
Community members are concerned COVID-19 relief money could get stuck in a public body with a long documented history of dysfunction
FLINT, Mich. (WJRT) - (04/15/2021) - City Council has a big agenda ahead of it in the coming weeks and months, including handling nearly $100 million in new federal COVID-19 relief funding.
However, there are concerns from community figures, worried that money could get stuck in a public body with a long documented history of dysfunction, including lengthy off-topic arguments and members taken out in handcuffs.
It’s been an issue for years. Council even went through training on how to properly behave during session, but meetings continue to drag into late hours of the night.
Now, ABC12 is looking into new complaints that the concerning behavior has spread outside of council chambers.
One expert on ethics in government says this type of conduct can impact public trust and council’s ability to operate effectively.
“You always have to make sure that you’re presenting that positive image, that progressive image, the image that’s there to take care of the people. Take care of those who you represent,” Dr. Joseph Jaksa said.
Jaksa is a professor at Saginaw Valley State University who teaches topics like ethics and conflict management in the professions.
He says words can go a long way with public trust, and that includes during council meetings, saying the best way to manage conflict is present that positive image, being a good listener, and willing to compromise.
In March of 2021, council tried to take a step in that direction, bringing in Eleanor “Coco” Siewert, a nationally renowned parliamentarian who has been honored for Ethics and Civility in Local Government.
Even that session had some bumps in the road.
Some of what’s happening is deeper, including some personal issues on social media spilling into public meetings.
During Monday’s Council meeting, Councilman Eric Mays referenced Vice President Maurice Davis’ podcast on his Facebook Live, “Blues and News,” where some residents have complained about Davis using vulgar and homophobic language.
“This is not for your 12-year-old kid. This is actually what I call raw truth. This is not play truth. This is not candy-coated truth. People over here is dying. People over here, they lost everything they ever had and they worked for it, so it’s not for everybody. It’s for the ones that’s struggling,” Davis said.
Davis says those comments were taken out of context. He says he got heated because there are people trying to take his council seat unfairly. He says he’s also facing death threats, even showing a handful bullets he found near his front door.
Still, Jaksa says public figures need to be aware of their rhetoric, even on social media.
“The bottom line is then the people who you’re trying to serve, they’re not being served properly because things aren’t being taken care of in an expedient way,” Jaksa said.
Jaksa says although this is an issue for Flint, polarized systems of government are a problem that must be addressed all across the country.
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