NOTE: There is simply too much news arising from the poisoning of Flint’s drinking water to do separate posts for everything. Therefore, I am assembling various news items into a single news round-up on a semi-regular basis. You can follow all of our coverage HERE.
Former Snyder advisor concedes that “running government like a business” led to the poisoning of Flint’s water
I wrote a piece recently highlighting how, when the microphones and cameras off, many Republicans are privately conceding that “running government like a business” has been an epic failure and has, in fact, led to the poisoning of Flint’s drinking water with the powerful, odorless, tasteless, invisible neurotoxin lead. Today, the Detroit Free Press has an interview with a former advisor to Gov. Rick Snyder saying the same thing:
The drinking water catastrophe in Flint is the result of a failed model of trying to run state government like a business, says a former adviser to Gov. Rick Snyder, who also predicted the governor won’t survive a recall vote if the question makes the ballot.
Dennis Schornack, who retired after serving more than three years as a senior adviser on transportation issues to Snyder during his first term, is the first current or former Snyder official to directly criticize the governor and his management style for contributing to the public health crisis.
Schornack said he still believes Snyder is an intelligent leader and “basically a good guy.” But, he said, decisions about Flint’s drinking water should have been dictated by science instead of finances and the bottom line.
“It’s sort of a single dimension for decision making; thinking that if it can’t be solved on a spreadsheet, it can’t be solved,” Schornack said in a telephone interview from Florida. He earlier served 12 years as a senior policy adviser to Republican Gov. John Engler and in between served six years on the International Joint Commission.
“Government is not a business … and it cannot be run like one,” Schornack said. “The people of Flint got stuck on the losing end of decisions driven by spreadsheets instead of water quality and public health. Having been a Snyder staffer, luckily in a spreadsheet-rich area like transportation, I lived the culture amidst its faults.”
Schornack said, “The issue has totally spun out of the governor’s control,” and if a recall question makes it onto the ballot, “he’s dead.”
Yeah, we’ve been saying that for a very long time. Welcome to the bandwagon.
I’m sure there will be more of these concessions and revelations in the coming months as Republicans and current and former Snyder administration officials begin the important effort to distance themselves as far as humanly possible from Gov. Snyder’s failed policies. Stay tuned.
House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Ranking Member says Gov. Snyder has “completely ignored” requests for documents
Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings, the Ranking Member on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is not happy with Gov. Rick Snyder and is accusing him of “completely ignoring” his request for documents related to the catastrophe in Flint:
The top-ranking Democrat on a congressional committee investigating the crisis of high lead levels found in residents’ tap water in Flint complained Monday that Gov. Rick Snyder has failed to produce documents requested relating to the crisis and should be compelled by the committee to do so.
U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, who is the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, wrote in a letter to Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, that Snyder has “completely ignored” Cummings’ and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence’s request for documents related to the Flint sent Jan. 29.
“As I have stated many times, I believe the committee must obtain information from all levels of government — local, state and federal — in order to conduct a responsible and complete investigation,” wrote Cummings, who is part of a delegation of congressional Democrats visiting Flint on Monday with U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township.
Cummings and Lawrence, D-Southfield, made the request after it became clear Snyder would not be invited for the committee’s first hearing on Flint, asking for documents related to Flint’s switch to using the Flint River as a water source in April 2014 as part of a temporary cost-cutting move at a time when the city was under the control of an emergency manager appointed by Snyder.
I’m not sure that pissing off such a powerful member of Congress is Gov. Snyder’s wisest move at the moment, particularly since he has continued to stick a finger in the eye of transparency by issuing a no-bid contract for the replacement of lead water service lines in Flint. But, hey, what do I know? Maybe those two PR firms he hired know something I don’t…
Gov. Snyder responds to pressure to release more Flint water crisis documents, promises to release all staff emails dating back to 2011
The pressure on Gov. Snyder to release ALL documents related to the Flint debacle is finally getting some traction. Yesterday, he promised to release all related emails, including those of his staff, going all the way back to 2011. This is essential since many of the decisions made that led to the use of the Flint River as the source of the city’s drinking water were made prior to 2014, the earliest date of the emails he has released so far:
Gov. Rick Snyder said Monday his office will release thousands of pages of emails his staff sent or received related to Flint’s water supply switch and subsequent contamination dating back to 2011.
Snyder said the release of his office’s Flint records would come “relatively soon” after state lawyers remove any documents that would normally be exempt under the Michigan Freedom of Information Act, which doesn’t apply to the governor’s office.
“You’re talking thousands and thousands of emails, so I want to make sure they do it carefully and thoughtfully,” Snyder told The Detroit News Editorial Board.
The Republican governor stopped short of endorsing an expansion of Freedom of Information Act to make his office and the Legislature subject to the same public records law imposed on all other levels of government in the state. Michigan is one of two states that don’t release emails from these branches of government open to public inspection.
That’s a good start but, of course, it’s high time Michigan did away with it’s anti-democratic law that shields the governor from FOIA requests.
These new emails are sure to give us more lurid details about how the situation in Flint was ignored and how decisions were based on how much money could be saved rather than the health and safety of Flint residents. This is going to get very interesting.
A second recall petition approved by the State Board of Canvassers
A couple of weeks ago, tea party zealot Ben Lazarus had recall petition language approved by the State Board of Canvassers. However, many folks, myself included, are dubious that this is a real effort. Rather, it may be a smokescreen to give the appearance of a recall effort that will accomplish nothing. However, yesterday, a second petition was approved, this one submitted by Detroit activist Pastor David Alexander Bullock. The focus of his recall effort is Gov. Snyder’s shamefully inadequate response to the Flint water crisis.
A coalition of individuals and groups will need to collect nearly a million signatures within a 60-day window to obtain the 789,133 valid signatures needed to put the recall on the May or August ballot.
Quincy Murphy, a spokesperson for the coalition, says they already have 2,000 volunteers ready to begin circulating petitions. They are also planning to recall Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, as well, since he would take over as governor if Snyder is recalled. Their first Calley recall petition was rejected the same day the Snyder recall petition was approved.
Murphy said the recall group hopes to raise $2 million for a statewide petition drive, which would likely begin this spring when the weather warms. He claimed they already have roughly 2,000 volunteers in place and are working on a website.
“We just dealt with the water issue, but this goes just beyond the water,” Murphy said. “The emergency manager law has done nothing but stripped us from our democracy. So we’re standing up, we’re standing up for democracy, and we’re moving forward with this recall.”
Murphy said the group will resubmit a proposal targeting Calley, who would take over if Snyder is ousted.
It’s unfortunate that there aren’t a million registered voters in Flint. That would make their job a whole lot easier.
Unlike Ben Lazarus’ petition drive, this one is legitimate and has the potential for success if properly organized. I have been personally contacted by a large number of people who want to help. Watch this space for more information on how you can get involved as this moves forward.
USEPA now getting far more involved in Flint
The USEPA is stepping up its involvement in the response to the poisoning of Flint’s drinking water. They have made it clear they do not believe the city has enough qualified staff members running their water treatment plant. They also want a look at the city and state’s plans for replacing lead water service lines:
The head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over the weekend told Flint Mayor Karen Weaver that federal regulators must review any plans to replace lead water lines in the city, including those to be done as part of a demonstration project as early as this week.
On Saturday, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy wrote Weaver a letter regarding the mayor’s so-called “Fast Start” plan, through which Weaver wants to accelerate the removal of lead pipes throughout the city. McCarthy cautioned that even if pipe replacement begins, corrosion control treatments still will be required and that residents are likely to be using filtered or bottled water for at least three months afterwards.
McCarthy also noted that lead service line replacement can, in some instances, result in higher levels of lead being released through the remaining pipes and suggested the city focus on “targeted infrastructure work” so that lead lines can be replaced with minimal disruptions or problems. […]
McCarthy also reiterated concerns raised by the EPA last week that the city of Flint doesn’t have enough qualified personnel working at its water system and still lacks a comprehensive plan to ensure that corrosion control is adequate to keep lead from leaching into residents’ taps.
This heightened scrutiny is essential given the state Department of Environmental Quality’s abysmal record.
One other thing: Keep in mind that the serious problem with inadequate staffing at the city’s water treatment plant is one created by the long line of Emergency Managers that have run the city for many years, all in the name of saving money.
Obama administration creates team to investigate water-caused rashes experienced by Flint residents
One of the more perplexing problems experienced by some Flint residents are skin rashes caused by the city’s water. This is not directly tied to the lead contamination and, so far, the cause is unknown. Now a four-member team from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has been formed to investigate the situation:
A four-member chemical exposure team from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is expected to arrive in Flint this week to investigate rashes possibly associated with the city’s water, state officials announced Monday.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has requested an assessment of chemical exposure from the federal department,, according to state officials. The request comes as the state conducts its own follow-up this month with Flint residents who reported skin rashes, officials said.
“While working with the community and our federal partners on these investigations, the option to utilize an ACE team in Flint has been identified as an important next step,” Dr. Eden Wells, chief medical executive with the state health department, said in a statement Monday. “We’re hopeful that an ACE investigation will assist us in further protecting the health of Flint residents by identifying any concerns that may be contributing to rashes and other skin concerns.”
Wells added that her department will work with local and federal partners to address the investigation’s findings.
Given the myriad trials and tribulations inflicted on the residents of Flint, one is reminded of the Biblical figure Job who God inflicted with rashes and skin sores, too.
Economic redevelopment in Flint, Detroit, and elsewhere finally seen by the Snyder administration as something maybe consider
There’s a tiny glimmer of hope that the Snyder administration may be “getting it” when it comes to their response to municipal fiscal crises in our state. After years of disinvestment and “saving” cities from fiscal crises by doing away with local government, privatizing government services to for-profit corporations, and cutting local services to the bone, the idea that maybe, possibly, some actual investment and redevelopment might be in order seems to have finally bubbled to the surface:
Michigan’s obligation to repair its damage to Flint isn’t contained to financing lead pipe replacements and tracking the public health impacts of tainted water.
Not even close. The state’s second largest minority-majority city, whacked by a crisis directly impacting property values and the willingness of jobs-creating businesses to invest in the city, desperately needs help with an economic redevelopment strategy that produces results.
Even as Gov. Rick Snyder pushes the Legislature to approve up to $195 million for Flint, the state is preparing an economic development push that aims to deliver, among other things, new economic infrastructure to encourage investment and a brand-name grocery chain to the city’s north end.
While I remain skeptical that this will be done in a way that is in the long-term interests of Flint residents, it is the first sign that the Snyder administration officials are beginning to realize what I and so many others have been shouting for years: you can’t cut your way to economic vibrancy in our devastated urban centers. Austerity measures have led to the poisoning of Flint’s drinking water. They’ve created more debt in the Detroit Public School system without improving student outcomes and without dealing with the scandalously bad infrastructure issues DPS faces. They’ve sacrificed democracy on the altar of cost cutting with little success to show for it.
The only way this works is if local residents play a significant role. They MUST be involved to ensure that their current and future needs are addressed in a sustainable way. Let’s hope that this is the beginning of something that will finally begin to address the core issues faced by these struggling cities and school districts.
The Award for the Most Callous and Unintentionally Ironic Statement of the Year (so far) goes to…
Republican State Senator Tom Casperson, who is running for Congress in Michigan’s 1st Congressional District has a sad. He’s very worried that Gov. Snyder’s feelings are being hurt and that his kids might hear people saying mean things about him. Here’s what he had to say in a floor speech last week:
In a Thursday morning floor speech, State Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, urged a more civil discourse over the Flint crisis, acknowledging “mistakes were made” but comparing some of the vitriolic attacks on Snyder to “a poison in the heart, a poison of the spirit.”
“I have a lot of respect for Gov. Snyder. I consider him a friend. I want to believe he has no malice in his heart,” Casperson said.
“But I sense there’s an attack on him almost to crucify him, to get him. And I would just caution all of us that there’s more than just the man. His wife. He has children as well. Can you imagine what they’re thinking hearing what they’re hearing about their dad?”
Yes, mean words are just like poison. Poison in the heart. Poison of the spirit. Poison in your water. Poison in your kids’ blood. Poison in your wife’s bones. Poison.
Hell, it’s just like living in Flint, amirite?