Before we get into the weeds, I believe most of the readers of Eclectablog are keenly aware of the disgrace Governor Rick Snyder and his administration have caused, not just to the state but very specifically to the residents of Flint, people who continue to suffer while the governor uses taxpayer funds to defend himself from what may prove to be his undoing.
If what I share below were to be the perfect storm, the legislature could actually impeach Snyder. However, I am a realist and the chance that all of the pieces will fall into place perfectly isn’t very realistic. But one can hope, and my hope is not personal in the least. My hope is for the great people of Flint who are still being ignored by the state. The people who are suffering. The people who are waiting and the children who are falling behind and being forgotten.
Last Wednesday, at both the Capitol at a press conference as well as in Flint, there was a much unheralded and underreported story that broke that could have major implications for both taxpayers and Governor Rick Snyder.
Keri Webber, a Flint resident, announced that she has filed a complaint against Governor Snyder for using taxpayer dollars to defend what many consider the be the indefensible in the Flint Water Crisis.
From their press release, here is what the complaint encompasses:
The Governor had no legal authority to approve such a contract that enriches himself. Michigan’s Constitution, conflict of interest laws, state procurement laws, and statutes defining the powers of the attorney general all prevent Snyder from single-handedly hiring private criminal defense attorneys on the taxpayers’ dime. Multiple provisions of state law establish that only the Attorney General can represent the State of Michigan. Public documents suggest that Snyder did not get the Attorney General’s approval for his contract for legal services with Warner Norcross & Judd LLP. The complaint alleges private use of public monies, which is punishable by up to two years in prison — and misconduct in office — which is a felony carrying a sentence of up to five years in prison.
According to Mark Brewer of the law firm of Goodman Acker, who is representing Webber, “When Governor Snyder used the state checkbook to write himself an $2 million check to pay for his own criminal defense in the tragic Flint water crisis, he broke Michigan law against self-enrichment and conflict of interest,
Mark Brewer went on to say that, “Taxpayers should not be on the hook for the governor’s legal bills. The governor does not have the authority to simply decide to spend taxpayer money to benefit himself personally. That’s why we are calling for a grand jury to investigate this abuse of the public trust and put a stop to this outrageous action.”
The press release, provided by the public affairs firm Farrough and Associates, detailed what the Governor’s office says is their right to use taxpayer dollars for the defense of his office. It says, in part, “Snyder’s administration has made misleading statements alleging that a little-known resolution passed by the State Administrative Board gave him sweeping powers to approve that contract. Whatever authority that resolution may have granted the governor, it certainly did not allow him to approve state contracts that are otherwise illegal, violate conflict of interest laws and personally enrich himself at taxpayer expense – as he did when he used taxpayer dollars to fund his own criminal defense.”
“My family’s health has been devastated by the lead that was in our water system. Our family, like so many in Flint, has struggled in immeasurable ways since this crisis began,” said Webber, a Flint resident of 22-years. “I want to say how incredibly shameful it is that taxpayer money is going to pay for the criminal defense of the very person who was at the center of the poisoning of our drinking water to begin with: Gov. Rick Snyder. Any public resources for Flint need to go to getting people the support they need and replacing the pipes in the ground. Gov. Snyder has taken millions of dollars that should be going to Flint and it’s wrong. To add insult to injury, the Governor appears to simply have taken taxpayer money without any oversight or checks and balance whatsoever. No one should be above the law in this country, not even the governor.”
The complaint asks for a one-person grand jury in Ingham County Circuit Court to investigate the governor and his office for the alleged misuse of taxpayer funds and, although many in the legal field would not comment on this story and the likelihood of a grand jury being given the green light, Brewer believes that they have a very strong case.
Time will tell, but let’s be clear that both the governor’s office asked for and the GOP-controlled state legislature approved these funds, most likely with disregard of the Michigan constitution, which has been used mostly like toilet paper by the GOP leadership over the past almost six years.
There is plenty of blame to go around, and it should. Attorney General Bill Schuette has shown a faux front in being a champion of the people of Flint. But make no mistake, this is as much about his political ambition for higher office than anything else. His inability to recognize that he alone should have been representing the governor, by state constitution, is inexcusable. Although Schuette claims no one is off limits in his probe, it’s clear that the line has been drawn somewhere lower than the governor’s office.
Meanwhile, the residents of Flint are caught in political quagmires of epic proportions and the children who were poisoned will deal with the medical and emotional implications of lead poisoning long after this story is forgotten.
This is a tragedy that must never be forgotten and the punctuation of this goes to a simple and profound truth: Our nation’s infrastructure, especially in our inner cities, has been ignored for too many decades and the price tag increases with each year we ignore it. As a reminder, in his first term President Obama practically begged Congress to address this problem and was rebuffed mostly because the GOP is irresponsible in continuing to provide tax breaks to the wealthiest among us and to corporations who send way too much money to accounts overseas in a very legal maneuver.
The other reason is simpler still. They did not want Obama to get the credit for creating millions of good paying jobs, rebuilding a country that is in desperate need of upgrades on so many levels, and doing the right thing. Yes, it’s that simple: Just doing the right thing.
For all of the Keri Webbers in this country and to all of our fellow residents in Flint, we can begin to rectify this by voting on November 8 for Democrats for Congress, for the state House and for the presidency. Maybe it’s time to hold Democrats feet to the fire. I say let’s elect them and give it a go, if for no other reason than to protect our children.
You are a one-person grand jury. Act like it.