Detroit, Emergency Manager Law, Emergency Managers, Flint — January 15, 2016 at 12:03 pm

Why is the man most to blame for the #FlintWaterCrisis, Darnell Earley, still the Emergency Manager of Detroit schools?


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– Chris

On April 16, 2013, Flint Emergency Manager Ed Kurtz signed an agreement on behalf of the city to form a new water district that would, when the project was completed, get its water from Lake Huron via a new pipeline. The decision was made in order save money since water from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) was very expensive. The next day, the city of Detroit, which was also under the control of an Emergency Manager, Kevin Orr, notified the city of Flint, that it was exercising its right to give one year’s notice that it was terminating their nearly 50-year-old contract. This would have compelled Flint officials to renegotiate the contract which was expected to result in even higher water costs since the new water pipeline would not be completed by April 2014.

In other words, despite the fact that both cities were under state control via Emergency Managers appointed by Governor Rick Snyder, Detroit was essentially attempting to extort additional money from Flint between April 2014 and when its new pipeline was operational. Emergency Management, a system ostensibly put in place to stabilize cities financially, had essentially degraded into a pissing match between two Emergency Managers under the direction of Gov. Snyder.

Shortly before the April 2014 deadline, DWSD Director Sue McCormick offered to let Flint stay on their system until their new pipeline was completed. However, EM Earley declined. If you were to point to one specific decision that lead to the poisoning of Flint’s drinking water, it would be this one. Earley, by rebuffing Detroit’s offer in their on-going internecine battle, put Flint on a course that lead to the state of emergency they are in today.

You can read Earley’s response to McCormick HERE. Here’s the paragraph that created Flint’s current catastrophe:

Dear Ms. McCormick:
Thank you for the correspondence dated February 12, 2014 which provides Flint with the option of continuing to purchase water from DWSD following the termination of the current contract as of April 17, 2014.

Following DWSD’s April 17, 2013 notice of termination of the water service contract between the City of Flint and DWSD, the City of Flint has actively pursued using the Flint River as a temporary water source while the KWA pipeline is being constructed. We expect that the Flint Water Treatment Plant will be fully operational and capable of treating Flint River water prior to the date of termination. In that case, there will be no need for Flint to continue purchasing water to serve its residents and businesses after April 17, 2014.

Earley’s letter goes on to acknowledge that Genesee County officials were negotiating with the DWSD to continue using their water (which is distributed to them by the Flint system), saying that, if Genesee County decided to go forward with it, Flint would only need to purchase the amount of water needed for them and that Flint itself would get its water from the Flint River.

This chutzpah and single-minded focus only on the economics of the situation with a total disregard to warnings about the impact of Flint River water chemistry tells us a great deal about how Darnell Earley operates. When you watch video of him talking to reporters, that arrogance comes through loud and clear. It was also blatantly clear in an almost laughable revisionist history op-ed he penned for The Detroit News denying any responsibility for Flint’s water catastrophe.

Earley is now embroiled in another controversy as the EM of Detroit Public Schools. DPS teachers have been staging “sick outs” over the past two weeks to protest over-crowded classrooms, deplorable working conditions, and continuous cuts to their pay and benefits. The sick outs, which have not been organized by their union, the Detroit Teachers Federation, reached their zenith on Monday when 64 DPS schools were closed due to a lack of teachers with two-thirds of the students impacted. The ongoing “non-strike” drove Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan to tour several DPS schools. What he saw is shocking:

Mayor Mike Duggan said he saw a dead mouse, children wearing coats in cold classrooms and a gym floor too warped for play during a tour of some Detroit public schools Tuesday, amid a teacher sick-out that has forced dozens of buildings to close.

Duggan pledged to quickly come up with a plan to improve the condition of the buildings. He noted that the state has been in control of DPS for the better part of a decade, saying, “It was a troubled district seven years ago, but there is no argument to say that state management has made it better.”

The teachers’ union has complained about mold, rodent infestations, too-large class sizes and other issues. Teachers upset about their pay, the district’s financial condition and work environments called in sick Monday, forcing the cancellation of classes at 64 schools.

“Our children need our teachers in the classroom. … But there’s no question about the legitimacy of the issues that they’re raising,” Duggan said Tuesday, when about two dozen schools were closed because of the sick-out. […]

“We’ve seen a couple of school buildings that are well-maintained and then saw some conditions that were deeply disturbing, including a school where the children have no gym class because the gym floor is buckled from roof leaks,” Duggan said.

He said it was “heartbreaking” to see some kids wearing coats in the morning until classrooms warm up by lunch.

After his tour, Duggan called for all DPS schools to be inspected.

The American Federation of Teachers has a scathing report on the conditions in DPS schools written by a school counselor at Spain Elementary-Middle School in Detroit. You can view it HERE.

In addition to that report which has photos of some of egregious conditions students and teachers are living with, here’s a heart-breaking video they produced that gives you an even better view. If you’re like me, it’ll make you weep to see these beautiful, innocent children having to attempt to learn in such a terrible environment.

Darnell Earley has been the Emergency Manager for DPS for a year now. While the obscene state of many DPS schools is not soley on his shoulders, it’s clear that he’s done nothing to solve the problem. Once again, he has used the Emergency Managers’ toolkit of cutting, reductions, and other austerity measures to solve a problem that can only be resolved through investment and renewal. Given his history in Flint, it’s completely legitimate to question why he is in charge when he’s shown such disregard for the health and safety of the people for whom he is literally the overseer.

The International Union of Operating Engineers is one of the groups asking that question. They issued a statement this week warning the public that the same emergency manager who poisoned the water in Flint is now in charge of cuts at Detroit Public Schools that will threaten the safety of students:

The water poisoning disaster in Flint should be a wake-up call,” said Tom Scott, Stationary Division Director for IUOE 324. “No budget saving is worth a life. The teachers protesting the deplorable conditions in our schools are right. DPS cost cutting policies have put everyone at risk from deteriorating conditions in our buildings. The same thinking that poisoned children in Flint is now working to put more children in danger from fire and explosion caused by an unmanned boiler in Detroit. We must stop using a policy that values money over safety.”

Darnell Early is serving as the EM for DPS. He was the EM in Flint for over a year and is responsible for implementing the switch from the Detroit water system that led to the crisis today. For months, labor unions and residents have been sounding the alarm that a plan by DPS to cut the number of certified, licensed boiler operators and switch to an untested, unmanned system of monitoring commercial boilers in schools is too dangerous. Boilers are more likely to explode when not maintained and watched by licensed, certified operators. An explosion was averted at a hospital in Connecticut recently because a boiler operator was present and shut down the equipment after a steam pipe ruptured. DPS may not be so lucky.

Boilers are heavy machinery that provides heating in large commercial and public buildings such as schools, hospitals, manufacturing facilities and office buildings. DPS is decreasing the number of operators from one per school to a one per every five schools. This puts the public at greater risk because boiler operators will have run five times the number of commercial boilers they normally maintain and operate across miles of territory. Getting to a school in time to avert an equipment failure that can cause an explosion will become almost impossible.

Darnell Earley has proven to have terrible judgment when it comes to making decisions as an Emergency Manager. To have him at the helm of a school system in such dire need of immediate investment and rebuilding is a slap in the face to the children of Detroit and their parents.

It’s time for Earley to be fired and for the Emergency Management system in Michigan ended once and for all.