by Bruce Walker
The president of the Flint City Council is asking a court to help her recoup the legal fees she incurred in a lawsuit she won against the city earlier this week. She is also challenging the city to disclose how much money it will spend defending itself from legal actions she initiated after the council imposed a gag order on her.
The Flint City Council voted 5-2 to censure President Kate Fields on Sept. 28. The resolution banned her from leading council meetings and openly speaking for 30 days, but still allowed her to vote. Fields is campaigning for reelection for Flint’s 4th Ward in next Tuesday’s election.
The resolution stemmed from an incident earlier this year, when Fields ordered the removal of 1st Ward Council member Eric Mays from a virtual meeting for disruptive behavior and denied him an opportunity to appeal her decision. Mays has a reputation for behavior deemed inappropriate, including a March 2020 incident during which he was removed from a City Council meeting in handcuffs and subsequently banned from council meetings for 30 days.
Fields sued the council earlier this month, saying its resolution against her violated the Open Meetings Act. Genesee County Circuit Court Judge Joseph J. Farah issued a temporary injunction that allowed her to speak, followed by a second injunction days later that allows her to speak for the remainder of the 30-day gag order.
The council is appealing Farah’s decision despite the Oct. 28 sunset of the initial 30-day gag order.
Thus far, Fields reported in a Friday morning news release, she has spent $875.00 of her own money to legally challenge the Sept. 28 resolution. She says Flint should also make public how much taxpayer dollars it is spending to defend itself.
“I … understand that taxpayers may not be pleased if they are required to reimburse me for the $875.00 I spent to uphold the requirements of the Open Meetings Act, “ Fields said in a statement. “But people should know that the City has committed to paying a law firm thousands of dollars to argue a losing battle in court to keep me silent. I call upon the City to do as I have done, and fully disclose what the City will be paying the lawyers who argued it is ok to put a gag order on a member of City Council,” she continued.
Flint retained Clark Hill PLC attorney Christopher Treblicock to litigate on its behalf. An email seeking information about the charges incurred to date by the City Council was sent to Clark Hill by The Center Square, but the law firm’s Director of Marketing Roy E. Sexton responded the company is not at liberty to discuss the matter.
“Now the City says it is going to take these losing arguments to the Court of Appeals,” Fields said. “This will no doubt cost thousands more taxpayer dollars and people are entitled to know how much.”
Fields said she isn’t seeking monetary damages from the city of Flint, but the Open Meetings Act allows her to request reimbursement for her legal representation and court costs. Individual council members are sometimes required to repay the city for legal fees. Council member Mays, for example, filed a federal lawsuit against the council seeking $1 million. The case was dismissed last March by U.S. District Judge Bernard A. Friedman, after which Flint City attorneys sought $35,000, which is now being garnished from Mays’ compensation from the city.
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Bruce Walker is a regional editor at The Center Square. He previously worked as editor at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s MichiganScience magazine and The Heartland Institute’s InfoTech & Telecom News.