By Shea Howell
March 12, 2016
The crisis in Flint is moving into courtrooms. Last week reports documented a “floodgate of lawsuits on behalf of aggrieved residents.” Seven families filed a lawsuit on March 7, 2016 charging wide-reaching negligence. Among others, the suit names Governor Rick Snyder and several of his appointed officials. The suit could eventually include 8,000 young people who have been exposed to lead through their drinking water. This latest effort joins at least three others filed since November of 2015.
Meanwhile, Governor Snyder has called for an investigation into the role the State Department of Health and Human Services played in the crisis. Sounding as though he was a person living in Flint and forced to drink poisoned water, Snyder said. “The public health issues the people of Flint and Genesee County are facing warranted an internal review of how the state handled these situations.” Snyder said, “I want some answers.”
This is yet another public relations move to show that Snyder is still the governor of relentless, positive action. Until last month Snyder did not even have a full time Chief Medical Officer. This, in spite of months of concern about lead poisoning and possible deaths from bacterial infections caused by bad water. The Public Health Code requires such an appointment. Snyder had no problem appointing Emergency Managers. He had no problem appointing “transition” boards. He had no problem hiring public relations firms and extra lawyers. Yet he did not appoint a full time Chief Medical Officer until February 1 of this year.
State Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich of Flint said he was “baffled” as to how Snyder “can continue to push for investigations of departments that carried out his wishes, and then blame them for operating in a departmental culture he created.”
This culture was on full display as more emails surfaced last week. As early as October of 2014, two top aids in the Governor’s office advocated for Flint to get back to Detroit water. Valerie Brader, deputy legal counsel and senior policy adviser to Snyder, raised problems with Flint River water in her e-mail to the governor’s Chief of Staff Dennis Muchmore and other top aides.
She called the situation an “urgent matter to fix.” She cited bacterial contamination in the river water and reduced quality that caused “GM to leave due to rusted parts.”
Brader was joined in her concerns by Michael Gadola, then the governor’s legal counsel. Noting his mother lived in Flint, Gadola called the idea of drinking water from the Flint River “downright scary.” He said Flint “should try to get back on the Detroit system as a stopgap ASAP before this thing gets too far out of control.”
These concerns were rejected as Emergency Managers. Flint did not switch back to the Detroit system for another year.
Both Brader and Gadola contributed to the cultural of secrecy and denial of the Snyder administration, in spite of their concerns. Brader raised her concerns in a way that would avoid efforts by the public to find out what was going on. She said, “P.S. Note: I have not copied DEQ on this message for FOIA reasons.”
Now we know why. As these emails surface we see relentless, incompetent, callousinaction. Snyder and his team protected their own interests. They dismissed critics as “citizens against virtually everything” and accused the press of seeking to manufacture readers.
Such arrogance is finally being revealed as a depraved disregard for people and for democracy. Snyder and his emergency manager law need to go. We want answers. We deserve accountability.