After Attorney General Bill Schuette’s bombshell charges against two former Flint Emergency Managers last week, Flint is back in the news and, as usual, is a complete embarrassment to our state.
First, we have news this morning that an Assistant Attorney General in Bill Schuette’s office signed off on an administrative consent order that led to the charges being filed against Darnell Earley and Gerry Ambrose, both of whom were Emergency Managers in Flint who made decisions that led to the poisoning of Flint’s drinking water with the powerful neurotoxin lead. The felony charges filed last week by Schuette center around this consent order which they say was obtained for a bogus environmental “emergency”. The order allowed Flint to borrow millions of dollars but, rather than spending them on the “emergency”, they redirected them to pay for their participation the Karegnondi Water Authority which is building a water pipeline from Lake Huron to bring water into Genesee County. Without the consent order, Flint was unable to take on additional debt because it was under the control of an Emergency Manager.
New reporting this morning from the Detroit Free Press shows that the order was signed off on by one of Schuette’s own Assistant Attorneys General:
Attorney General Bill Schuette’s office signed off on an environmental order that is central to new criminal charges Schuette filed last week in his Flint drinking water investigation, records show.
In bringing charges on Dec. 20 against two former emergency managers and two former City of Flint public works officials, Schuette and his investigators said a March 2014 administrative consent order issued by the Department of Environmental Quality never should have been issued, because it was based on a “sham” environmental calamity manufactured in part by former Flint emergency managers Darnell Earley and Gerald Ambrose and former city officials Howard Croft and Daugherty Johnson. […]
One of the three signatures on the administrative consent order (ACO), which the Free Press first scrutinized in a May article, is that of Assistant Attorney General Robert Reichel of the AG’s environment, natural resources and agriculture division.
Schuette, who will run for governor in 2018 when Rick Snyder is term limited out of office, has been trying to keep above the fray in the Flint debacle, avoiding any appearance of supporting Gov. Snyder and, instead, filing charges against numerous people in his administration. This new development will make it hard for him to do this any longer. While it’s true that no Attorney General can know everything his AAGs are doing, this particular situation is one where you would have expected much more intense scrutiny from the AG, scrutiny that, apparently, did not happen.
Schuette’s office is defending themselves by suggesting that they were lied to – provided “false information” – by the Department of Environmental Quality headed up by Dan Wyant, a man with no background in the administration of drinking water systems who has since resigned. One would expect Wyant to be charged at some point if his department did deceive Schuette’s office, especially if it can be proven that DEQ staffers also illegally doctored legally-required lead reports as has been alleged.
None of this is good for Bill Schuette which is a silver lining for the State of Michigan. Schuette will have a hard time winning an election if he has been shown not to be able to keep track of what the staff of a single office are doing in a highly public, highly sensitive situation.
We also learned this week that, despite having been ordered to do so by a state Appeals Court judge and two federal judges, the Snyder administration is STILL working overtime to avoid resuming water deliveries to Flint residents:
Groups and a Flint resident suing state officials over the Flint drinking water crisis went back to federal court Wednesday to try to enforce an order requiring the state and City of Flint to start regular bottled water delivery to certain Flint households.
The state and city defendants in the case have been ordered three times — twice by a federal judge and once by the Michigan Court of Appeals — to start delivering bottled water to all homes that can’t be shown to have a properly installed and maintained water filter. The state continues to appeal the order and has yet to comply with it, though it maintains any home that needs bottled water delivery can get that service by dialing 211.
The first such order was handed down Nov. 10.
Snyder claims they don’t have the infrastructure to deliver water to these homes despite the fact that they have had nearly two months to put that infrastructure in place. Instead, they’ve spent their time and resources filing appeals in court rather than doing the right thing.
Finally, Gov. Snyder has unilaterally increased the amount of tax dollars he’s spending to defend himself from the myriad lawsuits that have been filed against him in the wake of the Flint water crisis and to comply with AG Schuette’s ongoing investigation. The total bill may now reach $5 million or even higher if he raises the cap again:
Gov. Rick Snyder has notified the State Administrative Board that his taxpayer-funded legal fees with a criminal defense firm, for services related to the Flint drinking water crisis, will increase by another $1.5 million, to a cap of $3.5 million.
Snyder also has a $1.4-million contract with a civil defense law firm, to provide representation on Flint lawsuits top of what the governor receives from lawyers in the Attorney General’s Office.
Taken together, outside legal services for the governor related to the lead contamination of Flint’s drinking water are now expected to approach $5 million.
The most astonishing thing is that this move does not require any other entity – like the state legislature, for example – to approve the increased spending of tax dollars defending Gov. Snyder. Keep in mind that the $5 million figure is in addition to what’s being spent by Schuette’s office with his team of over 100 attorneys in Snyder’s defense.
Meanwhile, as of today, it has been 454 days since Gov. Snyder admitted that there was a problem with lead in the drinking water in Flint and there are STILL people there who cannot safely drink water from their taps without pretreatment. And it isn’t possible to pretreat hot water used for bathing, showering, cleaning, and cooking.