Emergency Manager Law, Emergency Managers, Flint, Rick Snyder — March 15, 2016 at 9:04 am

The buck only stops with Emergency Managers when things go well, not for the #FlintWaterCrisis


As we know all too well here in Michigan, once an Emergency Manager takes over a city, none of the elected leaders holds any power. In fact, anything they have done up to that point is considered to have been done by an inept, possibly corrupt, group of elected officials. Otherwise, an Emergency Manager wouldn’t have been needed.

It’s at that moment, the moment when our CEO governor appointed an unelected overseer, that democracy is thrown on the rubbish heap and a single person becomes responsible for the entire city. It’s exactly what our draconian Emergency Manager Law (and the one that preceded it) are all about.

When things go well, Gov. Snyder and his administration are there to take full credit. Even today Gov. Snyder touts the success of their actions in Detroit on the state website:

Detroit’s comeback is underway

Governor Rick Snyder understood that for Michigan to be a great state once again, Detroit had to become a great city once again. In June 2013, he hecided [sic] that enough was enough. Because of decades of neglect and mismanagement, the city faced a nearly unsolvable financial hole.

Working with private organizations, foundations, and the public sector, Govrenor [sic] Snyder forged a bipartisan coalition called the ‘Grand Bargain’ to reduce cuts to retiree pensions and ensure city services were maintained. Today, Detroit is on the path to recovery, and that’s why we call it America’s Comeback City.

What’s becoming increasingly clear, however, is that when things don’t go so well, the Emergency Manager has no interest in taking responsibility.

When the city of Flint made the move to the Flint River for its drinking water, Emergency Manager Darnell Earley was in charge. To paraphrase former Benton Emergency Manager Joe Harris, “HE was the Finance Director and the City Manager. HE was the Mayor and HE was the Commission and he didn’t need them”.

However, in an op-ed in The Detroit News and in prepared testimony he will deliver before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee later today, Darnell Earley puts the blame for the poisoning of Flint’s drinking water with the powerful, tasteless, odorless, invisible neurotoxin lead on everyone but himself.

Here’s what he said in his op-ed last year:

The decision to separate from Detroit Water and Sewerage Department and go with the KWA, which included the decision to pump Flint River water in the interim, were part of a long-term plan that was approved by Flint’s mayor and confirmed by a City Council vote of 7-1 on March 25, 2013. This plan was presented to me when I was appointed as Flint emergency manager in October 2013 – a full seven months after the City Council’s affirmative vote.

What Earley conveniently leaves out is the fact that the decision to “pump Flint River water in the interim” was NEVER discussed by the City Council. This is established fact and no longer a matter of debate. He also leaves out the part that, when the vote he references occurred, the City Council had no power because an Emergency Manager was in charge.

As former Flint Mayor Dayne Walling will say in his testimony before the House Committee today, “The emergency managers and the state decided to switch Flint to the river.”

Here’s what Earley will himself will tell the House Committee today, according to his prepared comments released to the media:

At no time did the water department staff, Mayor Walling, the City Council, or the state petition me to halt, slow, or otherwise modify the implementation of the plan. Nor at any point and time during the preparation for the switch, did I receive any information that would even remotely indicate that the use of the Flint River was unsafe in any way.

This is a remarkable statement. It seems to imply that others were responsible for stopping him from doing the wrong thing, that he himself was in no way culpable for his actions.

That the buck did not, in fact, stop with him.

I get that Darnell Earley and Gov. Snyder want to distance themselves from the poisoning of children and others in Flint. I’d have trouble looking at myself in the mirror every morning if I had be responsible for that, too. But the fact remains that Earley and the Emergency Managers before him DID make the decisions that led to this disaster. And even if the City Council HAD voted to use the Flint River for over two years before the Karegnondi River Authority pipeline from Lake Huron was operational (they did NOT), THEY were the Finance Director and the City Manager. THEY were the Mayor and THEY were the Commission and they didn’t need them.

Darnell Earley and Gov. Snyder want us to believe that Emergency Management is only responsible for the “good” things that happen under their watch. When things go awry and people are poisoned and schools are allowed to disintegrate and go bankrupt while they are in charge, that’s somehow not their responsibility.

When Republicans tell you that they are the “Party of Personal Responsibility™”, don’t believe it for a minute. Gov. Snyder and his policy of Emergency Management are Exhibit A in showing that the opposite is true.