Sunday, February 28, 2016

Checking In On Flint: The Scandal Keeps Getting Worse

The revelations about how the administration of
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder managed Flint's water,
leading to mass lead poisoning among the city's residents,
just keeps getting worse and worse.  
I feel like I should check in once in awhile to see how the scandal involving Flint, Michigan's water contamination is going.

The water isn't getting much better in terms of lead poisoning and other contaminants.

Speaking of contaminants, the drip, drip, drip of scandal news is getting worse and worse in terms of how the people running the show handled this whole thing.

I'm repeating reporting from publiciations like Flint Journal, MLive, Detroit News,  The Guardian and other outlets, as I believe their reporting on this tragic scandal ought to be repeated as often as possible. The bit of any optimist in me hopes this drumbeat of reporting and sharing information might help to prevent something like this from happening again, and/or hold people accountable.

Way back in April, 2014, so called financial "emergency managers," in a cost cutting move, switched Flint from a more expensive water source from Detroit to a less expensive source in the Flint River.

The Flint River is full of pollutants. City residents almost immediately began complaining about water quality, but, given that budget austerity is MUCH more important than people's health, or so the emergency managers, under the Gov. Rick Snyder seemed to think.

As we now know, the Flint River water was incredibly corrosive, and wore down pipes, which leached lead into the drinking water. Thousands of people were likely poisoned and many kids will now live the life long cognitive health effects of lead poisoning.

I've said before Snyder's handling of the whole thing is criminal and he should be jailed, much less the governor of Michigan.

And as with most scandals, new revelations over how bad this thing was managed keep coming out.

There was a growing, very loud chorus from Flint residents by October, 2014 about the water.

Michael Gadola, Snyder's legal counsel wrote in now-leaked emails that the Flint water situation had gotten "downright scary" and said the city "should try to get back on the Detroit system as a stopgap ASAP before this thing gets too far out of control," according to The Guardian

Well, it was too far out of control, but I get what Gadola was saying. He knew, correctly, that if Snyder stayed the course, this would get even uglier. Much uglier. We know now he was right.

However, other advisors to Snyder decided it would be too expensive to assume the monthly $1 million cost to return to Detroit water.

Yeah, that's pricey, but what about the effect on Flinters' health. And if you don't care about people, it's gotten a lot more expensive than $1 million a month, now, huh, Ricky?

The Guardian's reporting goes on:

Snyder's chief of staff at the time, Dennis Muchmore, told the Detroit News last week, "The assessment was you couldn't do it because it was a cost that should have been borne by the system."

On February 5, 2015, a reporter asked the Snyder administration about returning Flint's water to Detroit. State Treasury Spokesman Terry Stanton said, again, it would be too expensive to do so.

Later that day, according to the recently discovered emails and documents, Muchmore wrote that switching Flint back to Detroit would "probably be a good use of money as opposed to people refusing to use city water."

He went on: "After all, if (General Motors) refuses to use the water in their plant and our agencies are warning people not to drink it....we looks pretty stupid hiding behind some financial statements."

That memo referred to a previously disclosed GM's decision not to use Flint water in its plant because it was corroding the brand new cars it was trying to manufacture. And it referred to a state office building in Flint in which workers were given bottled water to avoid Flint water, a piece of the scandal also previously disclosed.

Snyder finally put Flint back on Detroit's water in October, 2015 when the public pressure finally became too much to bear.

This new information above, reported in The Guardian and Flint Journal, were part of a batch of 2,500 emails released last week under Freedom of Information Act requests.

Why didn't we read these sooner, when other batches of Flint water-related emails were released?

Because the administration, naturally dragged its feet on releasing them. I can give Snyder a quick PR 101 lesson here: If there's a mess up: Release all the information you have right away. No matter how hard you try to hide information, it's going to come out sooner or later.

The PR damage, if thats the only thing you care about, will be much less if you're upfront, early.

Getting back to the Flint water issue here,  Snyder's administration has repeated said, over and over again, it was Flint officials' decision, not his or his aides or his emergency managers, who decided to take Flint off Detroit water in the first place and start taking water from the dangerous Flint River.

The Flint Journal reported this weekend, that despite Snyder's claims to the contrary, emails show that wasn't the case.

Says the Journal: "Newly released emails show an aide to Gov. Rick Snyder disputed that notion just days before a damning op-ed by former Flint Emergency Manager Darnell Earley.

'It is important to note that council did not take a vote to use Flint river (sic)',  Harvey Hollins, Snyder's director of urban initiatives wrote in an October 7, 2015 email to Dan Wyant, former director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

Days later, Earley penned an op-ed claiming Flint officials approved the switch to the Flint River as the city's drinking water source."

The Flint City Council DID agree to stop using Detroit water, but they also never voted to start taking water out of the Flint River.

This doesn't make clear precisely who decided to make the switch, but it doesn't exactly absolve Ricky, does it?

I'm sure there will be a continued slow parade of new revelations about Flint, his emergency managers and the government of Michigan.

Meanwhile, Flint is still struggling with undrinkable water, an unknown number of kids from Flint, no doubt many, will have to contend with the lifelong effects of lead poisoning, and gawd knows new horrors we will learn about what happened to all those unsuspecting citizens of Flint.

I keep saying Snyder should face criminal charges. Investigations are still underway. But it's looking worse and worse for him. Though frankly, I care much less about him than I do about the fine residents of Flint, Michigan.

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