The lack of blog posts over the past couple of weeks is due to the fact that I was in Canada for a week-long business trip two weeks ago that involved me working 8-10 hour shifts, grabbing a quick bite to eat on the fly, and then catching a few hours of sleep before heading back to the plant. I got home Friday night at around 9 p.m. and was back at the airport the next morning to fly to Ireland for a wedding/vacation.
Interestingly and unexpectedly, the day we arrived in Dublin was the 100-year anniversary of the “Easter Rising” that essentially created the nation of Ireland was we know it today. That several-day uprising was crushed by the British but marked the beginning of the end of British rule of Ireland. Anne and I watched parades, speeches, and got to experience the enormous Irish pride in their independence and the heroes who led that effort 100 years ago.
At any rate, it was a lovely and necessary break that involved getting LOLGOP married and considerable Irish whiskey & pints of Guinness.
What happened in Michigan while I was gone is jaw-dropping.
First, Gov. Snyder agreed to conduct a public relations ploy by drinking filtered Flint water at home and at work every day for 30 days. Then, a few days into his gesture, he left for a week-long European trip, promising to return to drinking the city’s water upon his return. The tragic issues facing Flint aren’t just news in the U.S., by the way. In both Canada and Ireland, anytime I told people I’m from Michigan the issue of the Flint water crisis came up immediately.
Then Attorney General Bill Schuette astonished many of us by filing indictments against three people related to the Snyder administration’s poisoning of Flint’s water with lead. However, none of the top people involved in the calamity were held responsible. Instead, Schuette chose two employees in the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and a worker in the Flint water department:
The charges against the three defendants — Michael Prysby, a district engineer with the State Department of Environmental Quality; Stephen Busch, a district supervisor in the same department; and Michael Glasgow, the city’s utilities manager — included tampering with evidence contained in reports on lead levels in city water, and the two state officials were also charged with conspiracy to tamper with evidence. […]
Among other things, the workers were accused of distorting the results by directing residents to run their water before it was tested and failing to collect samples from some houses they were required to test. That had the effect of making the levels of lead in the water supply appear far less dangerous than they were, and falsely reassured officials who could have intervened months earlier, as well as residents, that the water was safe. […]
The three men face a total of 13 charges, a mix of felonies and misdemeanors. The state workers have been suspended without pay, Mr. Snyder said late Wednesday. Mr. Glasgow has been placed on administrative leave, [Flint Mayor Karen] Weaver said.
Aside from ignoring the Emergency Managers in charge when decisions were made that lead to Flint’s drinking water being poisoned, the choice to lay blame at the feet of Glasgow is particularly astonishing. He was an early whistle-blower in the Flint water crisis and was instructed by DEQ regulators to make changes to water testing reports. He also tried to put the breaks on the switch to the Flint River for the city’s drinking water supply but was shut down. Now he’s being thrown under the bus while, so far, at least, Flint’s Emergency Managers and other higher-ups in the DEQ are not being held accountable. Schuette has pledged that there is more to come so perhaps that will change.
While we’re on the topic of Flint’s Emergency Managers, when Darnell Earley testified before a Congressional committee last month, he had a high-priced attorney sitting at his side. That racked up over $70,000 in fees and now Earley has sent a bill to the city of Flint to pay for his lawyer:
Earley, whose office was searched by state investigators on Feb. 29, and who told the City of Flint on March 11 that he is under criminal investigation in connection with the lead contamination of Flint’s drinking water, wants the city to pay legal fees that already have topped $75,000 and continue to grow, records obtained under Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act show.
Flint City Councilwoman Jacqueline Poplar reacted with outrage Friday when she learned of the Earley invoices from a Free Press reporter.
“If he did send a bill — shame on him,” Poplar said. “The City of Flint shouldn’t be giving him a dime for legal fees or anything else. I would like him to refund every penny the City of Flint paid him to take us down this road.”
Earley is likely to have significant legal standing to do this, by the way. Public Act 436 specifically says so:
If, after the date that the service of an emergency manager is concluded, the emergency manager or any employee, agent, appointee, or contractor of the emergency manager is subject to a claim, demand, or lawsuit arising from an action taken during the service of that emergency manager, and not covered by a procured worker’s compensation, general liability, professional liability, or motor vehicle insurance, litigation expenses of the emergency manager or any employee, agent, appointee, or contractor of the emergency manager, including attorney fees for civil and criminal proceedings and preparation for reasonably anticipated proceedings, and payments made in settlement of civil proceedings both filed and anticipated, shall be paid out of the funds of the local government that is or was subject to the receivership administered by that emergency manager, provided that the litigation expenses are approved by the state treasurer and that the state treasurer determines that the conduct resulting in actual or threatened legal proceedings that is the basis for the payment is based upon both of the following:
(a) The scope of authority of the person or entity seeking the payment.
(b) The conduct occurred on behalf of a local government while it was in receivership under this act.
As my daily counter over there in the right sidebar shows, as of today it has now been 214 days since Gov. Snyder admitted that Flint’s water had been poisoned with lead. Since that day, not one lead water service line has been replaced through the efforts of the Snyder administration. Not only that, we now know that the funds allocated by Republicans in their budget for the coming year are short by half of the necessary amount needed to fix the problem:
The state could be $28 million short of where it needs to be to replace all of the affected lines responsible for the lead-tainted drinking water crisis in Flint, a top adviser to Gov. Rick Snyder said Friday.
In a private meeting Thursday in Lansing with House Speaker Kevin Cotter, R-Mt. Pleasant, and Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, Richard Baird, a senior aide to Snyder who is leading the state’s response team to the Flint crisis, said the administration’s original $27-million budget for pipe replacement has grown to $55 million. The elevated estimate came as a result of a new inventory of the city’s lead service lines, which are blamed for leaching lead into the water supply, Baird said
Originally, the Snyder administration asked the state Legislature for $25 million in water line replacement as part of a nearly $200-million aid package for Flint, a city of nearly 100,000. The city already has $2 million from the state to replace about 500 lines, according to Baird.
But the governor’s top adviser on Flint said in an interview that the figure is likely not enough given new information about the scope and cost to remove lead lines as well as galvanized lines, which are also suspected of leaching lead.
Keep in mind that this is all a direct result of the corrosive, untreated Flint River water that damaged the water lines throughout the entire system. What’s not figured into any of these estimates is how much damage occurred to appliance and other water fixtures in people’s homes. Dishwashers and clothes washers throughout the city are likely to have been severely damaged and nobody is talking about compensating Flint city residents for this. And they SHOULD be.
And, finally with respect to the Flint debacle, we learn today that Republicans in the state legislature are slow-walking increased medical care funding to residents of Flint. In March, federal regulators okayed expanding Medicaid coverage to a wider pool of recipients in Flint. Two months later, Republicans have yet to act on it:
Two months ago this week, the federal government approved Gov. Rick Snyder’s request to extend Medicaid health insurance to another 14,000 Flint children and 1,000 pregnant women who may have been exposed to toxic lead through the city’s tainted drinking water.
But the health care coverage has yet to be activated because it requires approval of the state Legislature, where the wounds of a divisive 2013 Medicaid expansion battle still linger.
Snyder’s request to give health insurance to thousands of additional Flint residents got wrapped into a $144 million supplemental funding bill for the city. That bill was put on a slower track with the overall $55 billion state budget, which lawmakers plan to pass by June.
“The speed is frustrating. We’re losing that sense of urgency at the state and federal level,” said Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the Hurley Medical Center pediatrician who last year discovered high levels of lead in the blood of Flint children.
In other words, this is largely a Republican-caused crisis that’s now being made worse by Republicans who are still playing games related to Medicaid expansion in Michigan, largely because of their simmering hatred of President Obama and his signature accomplishment, the Affordable Care Act. The word “disgusting” is inadequate.
Let’s turn now to Detroit Public Schools, another debacle caused by Republican policies and overseen by the Snyder administration. While I was gone, DPS Emergency Manager Steven Rhodes announced that the school district will not have enough money to pay its teachers at the end of June when emergency funds from the state run out. The impact of this falls most painfully on the two-thirds of teachers who agreed to have their paychecks decreased during the school year in order to receive checks throughout the summer when school is not in session. So, not only have they been receiving reduced payments, the money they earned is no longer available. This has prompted a call by the Detroit Federation of Teachers (DFT) for a district-wide sick-out that closed 94 Detroit schools today:
A mass of teacher sickouts has shut down 94 schools in Detroit Public Schools today, as teachers protest the news Saturday that the district won’t be able to pay them past June 30.
The district enrolls about 46,000 students in 97 schools.
The Detroit Federation of Teachers on Sunday called for the mass sick-out of the district’s 2,600 teachers.
DPS emergency manager Judge Steven Rhodes told the union Saturday that unless the state Legislature approves sending more money to the district, there is not enough in the coffers to pay teachers their already-earned salaries after June 30. Summer school and extended special education services would also be canceled.
Teachers said they had been told that the $48.7 million allocated by the Legislature last month to fund the district through June 30 would cover summer pay for the approximately two-thirds of district teachers who signed up for the plan, which allows for paychecks year-round instead of just during the school year.
Keep this one thing firmly in your mind when you hear Republicans and anti-public schools “reformers” blame this on the schools and teachers themselves: the Detroit Public School system has been under the control of the state government for 14 of the past 17 years. In other words, this isn’t a problem caused by an inept or corrupt school board or by greedy, over-paid teachers. This is a problem caused by inadequate funding of and investment in the school system by the state government for nearly two decades. And this is despite having privatized much of the operations and conducted failed experiments like the Education Achievement Authority.
What school reformers want us all to believe is that for-profit charter schools can do it all better and make a profit at the same time. So far, there has been no evidence of this in Detroit or elsewhere.
In the meantime, Republicans are trying once again to put money in the state education budget for private schools in violation of the state constitution.
Sometimes it just doesn’t pay to take a vacation…