By Shea Howell
February 7, 2016
Governor Snyder’s main response to the Flint water crisis has been to hire two public relations firms. He has yet to replace a single lead pipe. Snyder wants to save himself and his emergency manager law. He has launched a full scale campaign to blame anyone but him for the decisions that rest squarely on his shoulders and those of his appointed emergency managers and bureaucratic agency heads.
Snyder’s emergency manager law is unraveling. It is being revealed for what it is—an anti-democratic tool for businesses to turn public responsibilities into new sources of private wealth. It allows appointed individuals unchecked power. It is intended to silence democratic decision-making and to rob people of the ordinary checks and balances of political life. It has been used almost exclusively on poorer African American communities that are strong sources of democratic power, opposing Snyder and all he stands for.
Snyder’s public relations ploys are clear. He has unleashed two arguments, that are contradictory. First he is trying to narrow the discussion. This argument claims emergency managers are good, only one small decision was bad. This argument appeared in a recent article by Nolan Finley entitled “Trace Flint blame from water plant.” Finley labels concerns over who decided what, when, and why in Flint as an “obsession” that is “misplaced.” He says, “While it turned into a disaster, it would have been inconsequential had it not been for some bad and baffling choices made before the water started flowing.” Later he claims that the only “opportunists” want to make this all about the administration of a Republican Governor and the emergency manager law. He actually makes the claim “the outcome would likely have been the same” had the decision been left to local officials.
This is nonsense and is contradicted by fact. Thanks to Finley’s own newspaper, we now know that Governor Snyder and his Emergency Managers met with all the principle players in Detroit on April 17, 2013 and oversaw the debate about Flint leaving the Detroit water system. Flint Emergency Manager Ed Kurtz and Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr participated. The decision to switch to the Flint River was made in October of 2013 by Emergency Managers Kevyn Orr and Darnell Early, who followed Ed Kurtz and Michael Brown.
The decision to stay on Flint River water was made by Emergency Manager Jerry Ambrose. In March of 2015, after nearly a year of public complaints about the water quality Ambrose overruled a Flint City Council vote to return to Detroit water system. Ambrose flatly refused the Council’s request. He said it was “incomprehensible” and a waste of $12 million. Ambrose was well aware that water quality was suspect. General Motors had stopped using the water because it was rusting auto parts and state offices were being supplied with bottled water.
The second, contradictory argument is to blame everyone, especially the federal government, EPA and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. It attempts to diffuse responsibility by blaming everyone. Snyder floated this in his State of the State address. As soon as he said he was “sorry” he tried to obscure his own responsibility saying, “Government failed you—federal, state, and local leaders—by breaking the trust you placed in us.” Other Republicans from Jeb Bush to the congressional committee investigating this calamity, have picked up the theme.
The people of Michigan can see through these weak attempts to deflect attention away from Snyder and his emergency managers. We have repeatedly expressed our disdain for emergency managers. Every city that has endured their rule is suffering from decisions these people made to protect banks and big business. From poisoned water in Flint to no water in Detroit where 91,000 people have been shut off from water, Emergency Mangers have put profits before people, money above concerns for public health and welfare. It is time to repeal this draconian, undemocratic legislation. It is a disaster for people.