#FlintWaterCrisis news round-up: Let them drink lead, we’re eating very, very expensive cake (and much more)


While Flint contends with poisoned water, Gov. Snyder throws an opulent party in Ann Arbor

Mark Maynard has an explosive post up at his site that starts with a description of a party he had gotten wind of:

I got word this past weekend that there was a secret party taking place in downtown Ann Arbor, a posh event inside an upscale restaurant. The windows of the restaurant, I was told, had been “blacked out,” and there was security outside.

The party turned out to be thrown by Gov. Rick Snyder at Ann Arbor’s West End Grill for his wife’s birthday. The party featured this cake, most of which was edible:

Mark has this spot-on commentary:

Had I been in a similar situation, though, I’m relatively certain that I would have forgone a party, asking friends instead to give money to the Flint Child Health and Development Fund. “You know what,” I’d probably say, “as much as I love my wife, I just don’t think that we should be getting drunk and dancing around a big, creamy-frosting-filled Nordstrom’s box right now.” But, then again, I have a little bit of my soul left. And, perhaps more importantly, I’m not so delusional as to think that something like this wouldn’t get out. […]

You don’t have to hire two different PR firms to know that, just days after promising to focus all of your attention on solving the problems that you helped to create in Flint, you shouldn’t try to pull off a secret party as though nothing has changed.

It’s a classic display of the aloofness, the tone deafness of the wealthy class. And Rick Snyder proved that he isn’t self-aware enough to even realize his role in it.

Kudos to Mark for his outstanding reporting on this which has gotten international attention (including at the always-awesome Wonkette.)

Hillary Clinton calls the Flint Water Crisis “immoral”

Democratic presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Flint yesterday and spoke before the congregation of the House of Prayer Missionary Baptist Church. During her remarks, she called what has transpired in the beleaguered city “immoral”:

“Clean water is not optional, my friends. It’s not a luxury,” she said. “This is not merely unacceptable or wrong. What happened in Flint is immoral. Children in Flint are just as precious as children in any part of America.”

Clinton said she’s been meeting with Michigan’s congressional delegation to make sure that the federal government kicks in at least $200 million to fix the city’s lead-damaged infrastructure. The measure stalled in the U.S. Senate last week as Michigan Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters blocked passage of an energy bill because it didn’t include funding for Flint. […]

She spoke about being a new grandmother and how she would feel if the situation were happening to her family.

“For me, this is a personal commitment. I will stand with you every step of the way. I will not for one minute forget about you. I will do everything I can to help you get back up, get your strength and resilience flowing through this community again,” she said. “Do not grow weary doing good. The road is long and I know there will be a lot of bumps along the way. But this is the most important work we’re ever called to do.”

Clinton’s primary opponent Sen. Bernie Sanders repeated his call that Gov. Snyder resign, as well.

Hopefully the extra attention being focused on Flint as a result of Sec. Clinton’s visit will shake loose some federal funding despite the recalcitrance of Republican lawmakers.

NOTE: The Democratic presidential primary debate to be held in Flint on March 6th will be hosted by CNN. No details about the location of the event or how to get tickets have yet been released. For those who have asked me how they can get in, I simply do not know.

Snyder administration circles the wagons to protect their point person coordinating the state’s response

When news broke that close advisers to Gov. Snyder neglected to inform him about the outbreak of Legionnaires’ Disease in Flint when they first were alerted to it ten months ago, the big story, at least in my mind, was that one of those people was Harvey Hollins III, the man assigned to coordinate the state government’s response in Flint. It’s astonishing that someone with that level of importance in this whole debacle showed such poor judgment. Hollins himself says the information didn’t rise to the level of importance to alert the governor. “I have nothing to leave over,” Hollins told reporters asking if he was planning to resign. “When you have people who are professionals who are hired … to do their job and it takes four months to do that, for me to leave over their missteps, I’m not going to do that.”

Now the Snyder administration is circling the wagons to defend Hollins’ poor decision, once again throwing DEQ staffers under the proverbial bus:

The DEQ “didn’t think there was a lot of base for it if you look at the e-mail. Harvey, not being a technical expert, pushed back to say, ‘You need to look into this and if you find an issue, bring it to the governor.’ I think he was trying to respond appropriately, and the DEQ didn’t bring it forward,” Snyder said after visiting Our Lady Guadalupe Catholic Church, where volunteers distributed water and filters to the church’s predominantly Latino parishioners.

I said it before and I’ll say it again, “Given that [Hollins] apparently sat on this information for ten months before sharing it with Gov. Snyder (assuming Gov. Snyder is telling the truth and he was blissfully ignorant the whole time), his position of leadership in the government’s response to the crisis is at best worrisome. At worst, it could be deadly.”

MDEQ fires staffer in charge of Flint’s water

In an ongoing effort to deflect blame from Gov. Snyder and his Emergency Managers, the Department of Environmental Quality fired the person who was in charge of overseeing Flint’s water:

Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality said Friday it has fired the former head of the division responsible for supervising Flint’s water source switch.

Until October, Liane Shekter Smith served as chief of DEQ’s Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance. On Oct. 19, DEQ Director Dan Wyant told The Detroit News his staffers monitoring Flint failed to properly interpret the federal Lead and Copper Rule, which regulates drinking water, failing to put in place corrosion controls for the drinking water.

Snyder’s office said Friday the former head of the Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance had been terminated. The move comes more than four months after Shekter Smith received a $2,652 performance bonus, the state confirmed Friday.

I suspect we’ll see others who are fired or who leave voluntarily in order to shield those at the higher levels.

Some state agencies not cooperating with investigation into the poisoning of Flint’s drinking water

Speaking of the state’s response to the Flint water catastrophe, it turns out that investigators trying to determine how it happened and who was responsible are facing roadblocks from some state agencies:

Many state departments are cooperating with Gov. Rick Snyder’s task force investigating the lead contamination of Flint’s drinking water, but getting needed information from certain departments is “like pulling teeth,” a task force member said Friday.

Dr. Lawrence Reynolds, a Flint pediatrician who was named to Snyder’s Flint Water Task Force in October, did not specify which departments are cooperating with the work of the task force and which are not.

“Some agencies have been very forthcoming; other agencies, it’s like pulling teeth to get information,” Reynolds said at a meeting of the Flint Water Interagency Coordinating Committee, which Reynolds also sits on. Snyder set up the interagency committee to make sure all state and local agencies, as well as local experts, are working together to address the Flint crisis.

Seems like Harvey Hollins III has some work to do. If he’s not up to the task, Gov. Snyder, who has pledged to do whatever is necessary to help Flint, should find someone who is.

Former Michigan Treasurer castigates Gov. Snyder over Emergency Management

Former Michigan Treasurer Robert Kleine wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post that excoriates Gov. Snyder for his use of Emergency Managers to solve intractable problems in our struggling urban centers:

From 2006 to 2010, I was the treasurer of Michigan. I oversaw the emergency manager program, which has been blamed for causing the Flint water crisis under a different administration. In my view, Gov. Rick Snyder misused the program in an attempt to achieve an impossible goal for post-industrial Flint: financial self-sufficiency. Not only did the people of Flint suffer because of Snyder’s cost cutting, they suffered for a futile cause and at the hands of a state government that has made deep cuts to the revenue sharing their struggling city needs to function.

That said, what’s happening in Flint cannot simply be blamed on a hard-hearted governor nickel-and-diming a poor city into a public health disaster that will taint its reputation for years. This crisis was decades in the making. Michigan’s combination of deindustrialization and lack of public support for cities created the conditions that allowed Snyder’s poor decisions to have such a terrible outcome. […]

[A]n emergency manager can’t solve a financial crisis created by a low tax base and a lack of revenue sharing. The forced austerity that resulted in Flint switching its water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River had no chance of improving the city’s financial condition. The only realistic long-term solution is increased revenue sharing and consolidating Flint into a metropolitan government with the rest of Genesee County. The water crisis makes state aid even more urgent, because it’s going to drive down Flint’s already bargain-basement property values. Who’s going to buy a house in a city with lead-tainted water? Flint may never suffer another water crisis, but without structural changes to state and local government, its financial crises will never end.

I could not agree more.

Former U.S. Don Reigle from Michigan also condemned the Snyder administration’s response in an op-ed at the Huffington Post, saying, “The state officials who triggered this community water-poisoning catastrophe continue to offer excuses and half measures like ineffective faucet filters, and show no sign of an all-out effort to fully confront this public health emergency … What has happened in Flint by State Government fiat was madness; and the abject failure to now fully remedy the problem is a monstrous dereliction of duty.

Michigan Civil Rights Commission to hold multiple hearings on the racial impacts of the Flint water crisis

The Michigan Civil Rights Commission has now begun investigations into how race played into the decisions that lead to the poisoning of Flint’s drinking water and plans to hold multiple hearings on the issue:

The Michigan Civil Rights Commission will conduct at least three hearings regarding discrimination allegations involving Flint’s water crisis.

Commission officials said they were still working on details but said the first hearing will be held in Flint before the end of the month.

Commission Co-Chair Arthur Horwitz said in a recent media release that the commission is obligated to look into the matter.

“What is happening in Flint will have far-reaching consequences for the people who live and work there, many of whom are protected by state and national civil rights laws,” said Arthur Horwitz, co-chair of the MCRC, in a media release. “We have an obligation under our constitutional mandate to investigate allegations of discrimination, including disparate treatment based on race, color, national origin or any other protected status.”

There are few people who believe that, if a wealthy majority white city suspected their water was contaminated with a powerful, odorless, colorless neurotoxin, the response would have been to malign the whistleblowers and to ignore the situation until it was no longer possible to do so. Based on that assessment, a civil rights investigation seems completely reasonable.

National women’s advocacy group flies misspelled banner over Ann Arbor saying Gov. Snyder poisoned kids in Flint

The women’s advocacy group Ultraviolet flew a banner over the Crisler Center on the campus of the University of Michigan before and during the Michigan/Michigan State basketball game over the weekend saying, “SYNDER [sic] POISONED KIDS IN FLINT”. Gov. Snyder’s name was misspelled on the banner:

The group is calling for Gov. Snyder to resign:

“His actions have resulted in more than 10,000 children and pregnant women being exposed to dangerously toxic levels of lead that will cause severe brain, nervous system and liver damage that will haunt them for the rest of their lives,” she said in a statement. “It is time that all Michigan residents—Spartans and Wolverines alike—stand up and demand that Governor Snyder resign immediately.”

They should also ask the banner maker for at least a partial refund. Proofread much? Sheesh.

Gov. Snyder declines offer to testify before Democratic Congressional Committee

Despite calls to do so, Gov. Snyder has not been called to testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee headed by Republican Jason Chaffetz. Another Congressional Committee, the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee DID invite him to testify but Snyder declined their offer:

Gov. Rick Snyder has declined an invitation to testify before the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee on Wednesday, Feb. 10.

A statement from Anna Heaton, deputy press secretary for Snyder, said he will be presenting his formal fiscal year 2017 budget recommendations in Lansing on the same day and will be unable to attend.

Meanwhile, a third group, the House Energy and Commerce Committee which is chaired by Republican Rep. Fred Upton, has announced that it, too, plans to hold hearings. No word yet on whether Gov. Snyder will be asked to testify:

The House Energy and Commerce Committee, chaired by Republican Rep. Fred Upton of St. Joseph, said Friday it intends to hold a March hearing on the lead contamination of drinking water in Flint.

The panel sent letters Wednesday to the Environmental Protection Agency and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality demanding more information regarding the ongoing situation in Flint.

Committee leaders said the hearing would be based on the information it’s collecting from those agencies, seeking to gain a “comprehensive understanding” of short-and long-term implications on public health and environment. The committee did not yet announce invited witnesses or set an exact date.

On the sidelines of a Dearborn health legislation event, Upton said Friday that the Flint hearing would be bipartisan in its invitation of witnesses. He could not immediately say whether Gov. Rick Snyder would be called, but he said a number of stakeholders will be asked to participate.

“Our view is going to be: Where do we go from here? What do we do to make sure it doesn’t happen somewhere else?” Upton said.

They really should get on Gov. Snyder’s calendar now. He’s so busy with his budgets and opulent parties that his schedule is very crowded.