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May 18, 2022

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Flint, Michigan, city council gets heated after ‘ghetto’ comment

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A meeting of the Flint, Michigan, city council descended into chaos after a White council woman referred to the actions of the chairwoman, who is Black, as “ghetto” during a six-hour meeting.

The councilwoman who made the comment, Eva Worthing, later apologized for the comment as a “knee-jerk reaction” to what she saw as unfair treatment, but the arguments and racial statements show a history of heated rhetoric within the Flint city council’s recent history.

The dispute started over whether a council member could amend a resolution related to public hearings, which some council members contended was out of order with the agenda. Council member Eva Worthing contended that “a motion is always in order.”

Chairwoman Jerri Winfrey-Carter responded that she wasn’t sure why the amendment was being offered in the first place. “Why are we amending this motion?”

“Because we can,” Worthing commented.

“You know what, don’t get funny up in here, because I’ll turn this out,” Winfrey-Carter responded.

In a recording of the council meeting, Worthing is heard making a comment that is difficult to hear through the microphone, but nearby Council member Tonya Burns responded: “Really? That’s a racist term. Don’t say ‘ghetto.'”

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At the meeting, several council members took offense at the statement from Worthing.

“Point of information, madam chair. I think it is a personal attack to say ‘getting ghetto,” Burns said.

Eva Worthing
(Eva Worthing Flint City Council 9th Ward)

The meeting detoured after Winfrey-Carter issued a warning to Worthing, who then motioned to appeal the issuance — which was seconded by another Black council member.

Winfrey-Carter attempted to put the meeting back on track. “I don’t know what’s going on, but I’m not here to play. I am here to be fair. I’m want to hear from all of my colleagues…. Everybody is going to have a chance to speak.” She condemned “all of the ad libs from Councilwoman Worthing, it’s unnecessary. And to have said what she said was unnecessary… she was out of order, point blank,”

“First of all, we shouldn’t even be having this discussion,” Worthing responded. The motion should have been seconded, discussed and voted on. “You chose to threaten me in some way, so I thought that was inappropriate, Ms. Winfrey-Carter, so if you had not said there would have been no reaction. When you’re a chair, you should be professional and treat everyone the same.” Worthing accused the chair of “listening to one colleague,” and of running a “one-person meeting.”

Councilman Eric Mays jumped in with a point of order. The term ghetto, Mays said, “to me, it’s got some racial overtones. You can laugh, Ms. Worthing, but I can come up with some sure names for your neighborhood.”

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Worthing responded that Mays himself had called her a “nasty woman” and made references to her race as well. Mays continued and explained

“We take offense to you calling us ghetto. Now I’m going to assure you, I’m going to look up some words and call you something. I don’t want to call you trailer-nothing, but I will,” Mays said.

“My reputation is, when you go low once, I go low two, three times,” Mays said. “And the sooner that council people learn this… I keep score.” He added that “character matters whether you’re Black, White, orange, purple, green, Democrat, Republican,” Mays said.

The heated discussion continued, with other council members speaking against Worthing’s use of the word ghetto.

“I am offended, and appalled, when you speak to ‘ghetto’ and it’s seven Black people here, that’s a problem,” Burns said. She later said: “We have to be careful, because there is no superiority in any race, we are all equal here.” She also brought up Worthing’s profession as a school teacher: “You teach children, and you’re comfortable using ‘ghetto’?”

Worthing responded that Burns’ comment amounted to a personal attack, to which Winfrey-Carter said “you’ve been giving personal attacks all evening, so let her finish with her statement.”

“I am going to excuse myself, madam chair, this is not fair,” Worthing said.

Eva Worthing Flint City Council 9th Ward
(Eva Worthing Flint City Council 9th Ward)

After more heated exchanges, during which Worthing apparently left, Winfrey-Carter restored order. “Stop. This is enough,” she said, and expressed her desire to continue the meeting.

More speeches commenced, as well as accusations of mistreatment and racial bias. With Worthing absent, her appeal was dismissed and she received the warning. The meeting lasted for a total of six hours.

Worthing later issued a statement saying she was sorry for her comment. “It was a knee-jerk reaction. I said, ‘That’s ghetto’ under my breath,” Worthing said Friday, MLive reported. 

In a statement to Fox News, Worthing said though she has apologized, she has never been apologized to for “the trauma that not only I but the city staff have been through the last 4.5 year plus.”

“I have been through so much abuse on this council. I have never been apologized to,” Worthing said, adding that Carter “has not called me to apologize for saying ‘I’ll go all out on you.’” Worthing accused Burns of calling her a racist, a liar, and a “Councilwoman Karen which I feel is racist towards me,” she said.

“Why is this behavior allowed? It is about race. All three white women on this new council have had their race pointed out by Eric Mays. There was no story and there was no apology,” Worthing said.

The racial accusations and heated rhetoric are far from new for the city council. When she was re-elected after running unopposed in November 2021, Worthing said she was disappointed by the “negativity, racism and spitefulness in the current council.” 

“As leaders, we should be modeling the behavior that we want to see in our city. And unfortunately, that has yet to happen in the four years that I have been on council,” she said.

Last month, the council voted 6-0 (with some members absent or abstaining) after a 10 hour meeting to remove Mays as president. “I see a different treatment getting ready to happen … Race might be a factor,” Mays said prior to the vote, MLive reported.

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At the next council meeting two weeks later, Mays was removed in handcuffs after being ruled out of order twice during the April 26 meeting. He insisted that his removal as president had been improper, and compared himself at one point to George Floyd, who was killed during an arrest by an Minneapolis police officer who knelt on his neck for nearly 8 minutes. 

“You got your knee on my neck politically …,” Mays told the acting Chairwoman Allie Herkenroder, MLive reported. “I can’t hardly breathe.”

Burns, in that meeting, said that Mays was wasting everyone’s time. “It has nothing to do with color right now but (everything) to do with your behavior,” Burns said.

Council members Burns, Winfrey-Carter and Burns did not respond to requests for comment.