Flint mayor ousts city officials

Francis X. Donnelly
The Detroit News

Flint – Three months into her term, Flint Mayor Karen Weaver has begun to put her imprint on the city’s administration.

Weaver ousted the city administrator, police chief and fire chief Friday in personnel moves that were effective immediately.

Administrator Natasha Henderson was fired while Police Chief James Tolbert and Fire Chief David Cox Jr. resigned at Weaver’s urging, said the mayor.

Weaver ousted the three officials Friday just three weeks after the state’s receivership transition advisory board restored her powers to do so.

The mayor’s managerial powers had been stripped during Flint’s four years of control under state-appointment emergency managers.

None of the departures seem to be related to the city’s ongoing water crisis, said political observers.

Rather, they believe the new mayor just wants to put her stamp on city operations as she leads Flint the next four years.

“Maybe it’s her way of saying it’s time for a change,” said Tony Palladeno Jr., a longtime poltical activist.

Henderson, Tolbert and Cox couldn’t immediately be reached for comment by The News

The ousted police chief told news outlets he wasn’t given a reason for the move. He said he didn’t have any problems with the new mayor.

Tolbert, a former deputy police chief in Detroit, was appointed chief of Flint police by then-Emergency Manager Darnell Earley in 2013.

Tolbert was a popular figure with residents, several of whom took to social media to bemoan his departure.

“Police chief was doing a good job,” Tracey Coolin of Flint wrote on Facebook.

In announcing the termination and resignations Friday, Weaver said she mentioned shortly after her November election she would review the city staff and decide in two to three months whether anyone needed to be removed.

Now that’s she had a chance to make the review, she said the city needs fresh faces with new ideas to help move the city forward.

“I’m doing what I told the people who voted for me that I would do,” Weaver said in a statement.

“My focus is moving the city of Flint forward and I feel these personnel changes are ncessary to keep us on the right path,” she said.

As the city searches for replacements, the police department will be headed by Capt. Colin Bernie and the fire department by District Commander Stephen Cobb, said the mayor.

“We expect to have announcements soon filling both positions with highly qualified individuals who will help us as we work to restore faith and hope in our city government,” Weaver said in a statement.

Weaver’s first three months in office have been dominated by the water crisis.

Flint is under a public health emergency after its drinking water became tainted when the city switched from the Detroit system and began drawing from the Flint River in April 2014 to save money. The impoverished city was under state management at the time.

Regulators failed to ensure that water was properly treated, and lead from aging pipes leached into the water supply. Some children’s blood has tested positive for lead, a potent neurotoxin linked to learning disabilities, lower IQ and behavioral problems.

Tolbert became involved in a political dispute in July when he charged a city councilman with disorderly conduct for refusing to stop talking during a committee meeting.

The councilman, Eric Mays, was escorted by police from the July 8 meeting and, five days later, Tolbert placed the misdemeanor charge against him.

Mays, who was running for mayor at the time, accused Tolbert of filing the rare charge at the behest of Mayor Dayne Walling, who was running for re-election.

Mays failed to make the mayoral runoff and supported Weaver over Walling in the November election.

Tolbert, who testified in the disorderly conduct case against Mays last month, denied at the time there was any political motivation for bringing the charge.

He said he brought the charge after watching a video of the meeting.

“He was agitated, loud, had inability to listen to the officer (who removed him),” said Tolbert.

Mays was convicted of the charge and will be sentenced March 11.


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Twitter: @francisXdonnell