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A Tragedy with Many Fathers

In Flint, Michigan many are blaming the state and Governor Rick Snyder for the recent water crisis where lead was found in the water supply. But the story is not so simple.

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Writer’s note: Before going into the article, a few notes.  First, I no longer live in Flint, but in Minneapolis.  That said, my parents lived there until recently and I still have relatives in my hometown.  Second, being one of the resident conservatives, it should be stated that I am biased when it comes to Michigan Governor Rick Snyder.  I’ve seen him as a pragmatic leader and not an idealogue, conservative but willing to work across party lines.  


It always seems that when my hometown of Flint makes the national news, it’s never good.  And in this case it wasn’t good news.  Around the nation, folks learned about the lead that had made its way into the Flint water supply.  For a city that has had a rough going for several years, this was yet another black eye for a once proud and prosperous city. The uproar of having contaminated water is understandable.  No one wants something that could affect the development of children in their water supply.  But what is interesting is the telling of the story.  While I do think the state of Michigan has some of the blame, activists, local and state leaders and citizens tend to think the state and the governor are the true villains.

The reason people feel that way is because of a law: the Emergency Manager Law.  A version of it called Public Act 72 was made law in 1990 and a revised version called Public Act 4 was made law in 2011. Michigan voters repealed this version in 2012 (which then reinstated the old PA 72) and a subsequent law 436 was passed in 2012. The Michigan Department of Treasury has a good description of the law, but a fact sheet from the Michigan State University Extension sums it up perfectly:

If an EM is appointed, this person is authorized to act for and in place of the local governing body and administrative officer of the community. The governing body only retains any powers authorized by the EM. The EM has broad powers to resolve the financial crisis and insure the fiscal accountability of the community to provide services for the health, safety and welfare of its residents.

Because of its ability to sideline local leaders during a financial emergency, this has caused a lot of opposition from various sectors in the state and nationally. It doesn’t help that for a certain period the cities under an EM were majority African American cities. I personally don’t think that was intended, but it is there. It was probably one of the reasons that Governor Snyder waited a bit before putting Detroit under an EM in 2013.

So, you have a law that temporarily sidelines local leaders being used by a white Republican governor on a majority African American city. Yeah, the optics are bad and the combination was a volatile mix ready to explode and it did in Flint.

So, did Governor Snyder poison children?  Is the EM law the reason we have this mess?

The media and others seem to place the blame there.  My own answer is: I’m not sure.  The decisions leading up to the City of Flint using the Flint River as a main water source are not as clear as some would believe.  My own look at the timeline tells me that there there were a number of steps along the way that led to the final decision and at each point someone did something that led us down this road.

A number of media outlets have said something to the effect, that the Governor put the city on Flint River water to save money.

That statement contains two issues that need to be unpacked.  The first is, why would the city need to save money?  The second question is why was the Flint River chosen as a water source?

The reason the city needed to save money is because in 2011, the state declared a financial emergency in Flint.  An emergency manager was appointed by the governor to right Flint’s economic ship for the second time in a decade. (Flint was under an emergency financial manager from 2002-04.)

Flint has been an economic basket case for some time.  Some of this is because of the loss of tax revenue; the closure of GM plants and the loss of population meant less in the city’s coffers.  Also, the people who were left were more than likely to be low income, so again not a big chance for revenue.  The other problem is internal.  Flint had started losing auto jobs in the 80s and they didn’t really plan for the day when the auto industry would not be such a major player.  The other problem is that a lot of the functions covered by the city were very inefficient.  This 2011 study by Michigan State University explains this rather clearly.

(The conservative Mackinac Center noted that the city dealt with rising employee costs in the late Aughts, even as revenue was slowing down.  I’m always a bit wary of providing info from partisan groups, so I only add with this disclaimer.)

So, the Emergency Manager comes in to try to get Flint’s spending under control.  This meant looking for places where money could be saved.  The most obvious was the water service.

For as long as I can remember, Flint has gotten its water from the Detroit Water and Sewage Department. Detroit has charged Flint fairly expensive prices for the service.  Now that is not a big deal when the coffers are full, but it is a challenge when the piggy bank is empty. I remember my parents telling me how much they paid monthly and it was much, much more than what my husband and I pay here in Minneapolis.  So, it made sense to look for a way to get water cheaply.

This is where most of the media get it wrong.  Usually the story goes that the city went to using the Flint River because it was cheaper than Detroit.  It sounds like the Emergency Manager or the Governor just decided to use the river water.  But that misses a step.  The Flint River was not the first choice.  The Emergency Manager did meet with the State Treasury and the river was talked about as a possible water source, but there was also talk of joining a brand new water authority called the Karagondi Water Authority.  In April of 2014, the EM, with the symbolic approval of the Flint City Council, moved to join this new body which would draw water from Lake Huron.  The pipeline was being built and was slated to go online in 2016.  The day after the City Council vote, Detroit Water said it would end its contract with Flint in one year.  So Flint was set to join a new water authority that would draw water from Lake Huron and the next day, Detroit says they only have one more year on their contract.  This meant that there was going to be a question of what to do in that intervening year.  Michigan Radio says Detroit didn’t cut Flint off, and that is somewhat correct, but it is also a bit odd the day after a decision has been made to join a new water authority that Detroit would conveniently tell Flint its contract ended not in 2016, but in 2015 when the pipeline was not yet finished.

Now, at this point, Flint should have worked harder to secure a better deal with Detroit.  But the fact remains that Flint was put in a tough spot.  THIS is when the fateful decision to use Flint River water was made.  The Flint River wasn’t the first choice, it was the backup choice.

Was this a good decision?  Probably not.  Anyone who lived in Flint knew that the river was suspect because of all the auto plants that probably leached chemicals into the river.  But it is important to know that this was a decision made when one option seemingly closed.

I’m not going to go into the whole drama concerning the Michigan Department for Environmental Quality: I don’t feel comfortable wading into the science and don’t want to lead people astray.

The Water Crisis is not simply about some evil, racist Republican that didn’t care about poisoning children.  The Governor does bear some responsibility, that I won’t deny.  But the decision to use the river water was the result of smaller choices, not one master plan.

The fallout from the Water Crisis continues.  Flint was switched back to Detroit water in October.  But the problem of lead is still an issue because of poor chemical control which ate away at the protective scales in the lead pipes. The current mayor of Flint, Karen Weaver, issued a state of emergency which garnered national attention. A report from a committee appointed by Governor Snyder came out in late December which blamed the MDEQ for its lax handling of the issue.  The Governor apologized to the citizens of Flint and will meet with Mayor Weaver to discuss how to continue to help Flint.

It’s easy to point the finger at one party.  But the water emergency was the result a lot of different actions.  None of this means that no one is responsible.  The state in the form of MDEQ is responsible.  But this is the sad result of a declining industrial city with low tax revenue, a state bureaucracy that was too dismissive of the people it is supposed to serve, and outside governmental bodies that put the city in a hard position.

A lot of small mistakes led up to this disaster.  It will take a lot of virtuous moves to help my hometown recover from this latest arrow of misfortune.


[Images:  Water drop and Flint River in Flint, Michigan, both via Wiki Commons.]

Staff Writer

Dennis Sanders is the Associate Pastor at First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Minneapolis, MN.  You can follow Dennis through his blogs, The Clockwork Pastor and Big Tent Revue and on Twitter.  Feel free to contact him at dennis.sanders(at)gmail(dot)com.

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93 thoughts on “A Tragedy with Many Fathers

  1. Taking everything you offer here at face value (and I have no reason not to, I just say that because this is LITERALLY the only thing I’ve read on the matter), I wouldn’t put primary blame on the governor but on whoever made the ultimate decision to tap the Flint River. If that was the EM, I’d focus on him/her — even if there were other decisions along the way that contributed to that ultimately being the choice. I wouldn’t fault the governor for declaring an emergency or appointing that particular EM unless there was some sort of negligence that went into his decision.


  2. The reason poor people feel so overwhelmingly that they are not stakeholders in their governance is because they are, quite clearly, not.


  3. Unlike others in this thread, I’ve been hearing about this issue for quite some time in my Houston TX NPR station My take before today (that i still maintain) is that this was a matter of trying to obtain very short term gains without pausing ten minutes to think the whole thing through, together with a total misunderstanding (by the EM and/or the other authorities involved, from the Governor to the city council) about how public utilities really work.

    I don’t blame Detroit at all. Once Flint announced that it was switching water sources, the correct response by the Detroit utility was to suspend the contract in order to minimize ongoing obligations and liaÿbilities (*) I will bet dollars to donuts that one year is the advance notice for the unilateral termination of the contract. Probably nobody in Flint took the time to read the water supply contract with the Detroit utility and think to negotiate a grace period until the new infrastructure was completed (even assuming there will be no delays)

    The cheapest, fastest solution was probably to try to renegotiate the contract with Detroit. Without knowing anything else about Flint’s water needs, I’m guessing the high prices are related to paying for an infrastructure that surpasses Flint’s current needs. So, assuming a reduction in demand compared to the current contract, I would have offered Detroit a major extension of the duration of the contract (20 years or more) with a progressive reduction in the total water that Detroit must make available (and that probably Flint is not taking anyway). This would allow Detroit to progressively reduce the investments and expenses related to the Flint spur assets. I would have requested a price reduction today at a level lower than the current median cost (including existing asset charges) in exchange for overpaying the asset charges 15 years or so into the future, when the asset base would be lower.

    But all of the above was probably too convoluted and nuts and bolts for the people involved in the decision. Instead, blowing away contractual obligations without reading them and signing in for a new -and yet to be built- utility infrastructure sounded like the bold and manly decision. Nothing can be wrong when you make bold and manly decisions. Reading contracts and worrying about take-or-pay and capacity fee charges is for wusses.

    This has nothing to do with implicit or explicit racism, and (probably) a lot to do with the fact that reading long documents and making 20 year Excel ™ spreadsheets is boring. As a US heroine once said: “math class is tough”.

    (*) Think about it. One of your customers announces it will start buying from someone else, but you still have to maintain operate and perhaps improve an infrastructure that it will soon become redundant. Utilities are very asset heavy (**). Investment decisions are made years in advance, and infrastructure maintenance is paid over several years. Detroit’s obligation to its EM and creditors was to minimize any expenses related to the Flint service, given that there would be no future revenues from that contract. For instance, major maintenance to the Flint line would not be recovered if Flint switched providers, so we better not maintain that spur, so we better cut off our obligations as fast as possible.

    (**) I manage power and gas utilities for a living


    • This.

      Now, as to who is to blame for the whole fiasco? Well, in short, it’s those who created the need for an EM in the first place. Everything after that is just secondary fault.


      • Damon: Now, as to who is to blame for the whole fiasco? Well, in short, it’s those who created the need for an EM in the first place.

        Self-righteousness is so much fun. Please forgive me for spoiling your party with a few facts.

        There was never a need for an EM. Flint been in financial trouble since the 1980’s. The appointment of an EM in 2011 was a judgment call by Governor Snyder; there were several alternatives, including letting the city solve its own problems.

        The Karegnondi pipeline was a (Genesee) county-wide project, the result of many years of constant rate hikes by the Detroit Water Authority (on which the county is not represented), not a city of Flint project, yet only the city was cut off.

        The post was very nicely written and argued, Dennis; many fathers, going back many years. Here’s another: The choice of a water source was the immediate cause of the disaster, but the underlying cause was the fact that Flint’s 75-year old water infrastructure has never been properly maintained. (The source of the lead was in the pipes; the Flint River is slightly more acidic than Lake Huron, which caused lead to leech into the water supply.) This is a natural outcome of the way we elect our leaders; who ever ran a successful campaign by promising to spend a lot of money to maintain services the voters already enjoy? (We see the same phenomenon at the national level in crumbling bridges and highways.) Who are the fathers (and mothers) of this problem? All of us.


        • “There was never a need for an EM. Flint been in financial trouble since the 1980’s. The appointment of an EM in 2011 was a judgment call by Governor Snyder; there were several alternatives, including letting the city solve its own problems.”

          So your argument against an EM is that the city had been poorly run since the 80’s and therefore should be allowed to continue to run things poorly for the foreseeable future until maybe just maybe they decide to become competent?


              • How on earth is that retreating? In any case, I never said that Flint was well-run, I said that you don’t know. This latest bit of mindless snark confirms that suspicion.

                All of which misses the real point, which is this: The appointment of an EM, like all decisions, has advantages and disadvantages. Under Michigan law, an EM is essentially a local dictator. Giving an individual the power to ignore all other city authorities including the citizens has obvious short-term fiscal advantages. The disadvantages are less apparent (and so less likely to be considered); in this instance, they turned out to be stark.


                • I see, you are going to tell use that you don’t know if Flint was well run or poorly run however, you do know enough to tell me that I’m wrong when when I say that it was poorly run? I’d think the fact that an EM was put in place about 20 plus years of financial mismanagement is evidence that it was poorly run.


                    • Exactly. The financial trouble in Flint is that the jobs are not there any more, so anyone with the financial means and other opportunities has left. There aren’t enough tax payers left, but there are still obviously citizens that need services. That money has to come from somewhere. Or, the city can just say, “Oh, sorry, your house is on fire? Well, good luck, we no longer have a fire department. Too bad.” We tend to not like answers like that, for obvious reasons.


              • I don’t have an Uncle Fred. I do have a Cousin Andy, and hoo-boy is he a piece of work. He showed up to my mom’s funeral and as he was paying his respects in the receiving line, he met my wife for the first time. Afterward, we had this conversation:

                Wife: Who was that?

                Me: Mom’s Cousin Andy.

                Wife: Why did I have a sudden urge to punch him in the face? He only said hello and offered his condolences. (my wife is NOT a violent person)

                Me: Because he’s a ass, and it oozes from his pores.


        • Sure…

          So Flint’s had financial problems since the 80s by your own admission. Just who mismanaged those finances? EVERY SINGLE administration of gov’t from the 80s until the EM is responsible. Your rebuttal of my comments really just reinforces my comment and adds more people to the list of those responsible. The water supply choice is just icing on the cake this is a financial mismanagement going back decades.

          Self righteous? Hardly. Folks unwilling to man up and take responsibility for the shitstorm they created? Truth.


              • Because you can describe in some detail the things that went wrong in Flint, how they were the local government’s fault, and why your local government would not make the same errors.

                OK, go ahead. And if you could discuss water supply and distribution in particular, that would be helpful.


                    • Did you forget to read Dennis’ original post? He speaks about the Flint gov’t incompetence. It’s not like Flint’s problems are new. I guess the Flint gov’t didn’t watch Roger and Me.

                      I will say that my local gov’t just increased the storm water discharge fee to fund improvements.


                      • So if there is a corporation like GM in your town, and they decide to shutter all their factories, thus pushing most of your city’s population into unemployment, that is the city’s fault? Flint couldn’t force GM to stay in business and they had basically a one-business town. The jobs left, so most people left. Anyone that could afford to anyway. The poor and elderly mostly stayed. My grandparents stayed and were fine until they died because they had Grandpa’s GM pension. But others have not been so lucky. Any businesses in the area that were successful were due to the business provided by GM’s thousands and thousands of employees. Flint could have offered many tax breaks, but they couldn’t force GM to stay there. Meanwhile, what do you do? Cease all public services to those stuck in Flint?


              • So if there is a corporation like GM in your town, and they decide to shutter all their factories, thus pushing most of your city’s population into unemployment, that is the city’s fault? Flint couldn’t force GM to stay in business and they had basically a one-business town. The jobs left, so most people left. Anyone that could afford to anyway. The poor and elderly mostly stayed. My grandparents stayed and were fine until they died because they had Grandpa’s GM pension. But others have not been so lucky. Any businesses in the area that were successful were due to the business provided by GM’s thousands and thousands of employees. Flint could have offered many tax breaks, but they couldn’t force GM to stay there. Meanwhile, what do you do? Cease all public services to those stuck in Flint?


            • I can’t speak to the others’ situations, but know about mine. Colorado’s population has increased by a bit over two million people since I moved here almost 30 years ago, most of it along the Front Range. Cities from Fort Collins on the north to Colorado Springs on the south have added storage. My suburb is one of several that have built new treatment plants, both for supply and handling sewage. I know of multiple gray-water reuse systems that have been built. At least in my suburb, every project needed to increase capacity is used as an opportunity to replace aging plant. Millions of local dollars have been spent to protect the supply and storage system from the run-off from big burns on federal lands. Millions more have been spent on flood control to protect the supply infrastructure. Water and sewer fees increase pretty much every year. Voters have approved tax increases to pay for building and maintaining the water infrastructure (it’s Colorado, so since 1993 new taxes or tax rate increases require approval by the voters). While I’ve lived here, there have been at least three sizable economic busts: the late-80s oil bust, the telecom bust, and the dot-com bust.

              All of that said, Flint’s situation was and is much tougher. Geography and history means the Front Range wasn’t ever as dependent on a single industry as Flint/Detroit (resource curse in action there). Flint was in the horrible situation of fixed infrastructure costs along with a sharp population decline. Denver had a modest version of the 1970s white-flight population decline, but the flight went into suburbs that were largely customers of Denver Water — so DW’s revenues were much better behaved.


              • You mean by, say, blaming voters for the decisions made by an EM who took over the government from the officials that they actually elected? Yeah, people seem to do that sort of thing a lot.


                • No, I mean those who ran the city from 80s and couldn’t seem to balance the budget, creating the seed of the current problems, which lingered and got worse for decades. I mean those that continued to re-elect those idiots and got the same mismanagement.


                  • Difficult to manage a city right when the paying citizens cut and run.

                    MORE difficult to manage a city when people are actively recruiting for militias within your borders.


                    • It’s difficult to manage a city when the economy shifts to financialization and all the capitalism1 jobs become displaced over the course of 45 years.

                      Less percentage of wealth accumulating in the base making it harder to raise or draw taxes from the population.

                      Add to that the constant erosion of the purchasing power of the dollar.

                      It took awhile, but these bastards broke capitalism. To think expensive infrastructure can survive that? Silly rabbits.


    • J_A

      Just in case no one else has said it yet, this is an excellent comment. Very informative. I can almost see Michael Cain & Francis giving you a spiritual high 5.


    • Even if everything @j_a says is correct — and I have no reason to think it isn’t — is this really how we want every decision to be made? Primarily about maximizing the financial bottom line and minimizing liability? I mean, Flynt has frickin’ lead in the water. Maybe that wasn’t foreseeable but now that we know it is happening, don’t we want to pump the brakes, address the immediate disaster (and lead in the drinking water is a disaster), and sort the rest out later?

      Do we really want to look back in 20 years on a mini-generation suffering the ill effects of lead in the water and say, “Well, Detroit *did* act prudently so…”?


      • The point is less that Detroit (which has it’s own world of hurt to contend with) acted prudently, so nothing to see here, but that TPTB in Flynt should have known Detroit would likely take that action, had they bothered to understand their contracts and how things work, and done something to try and address that.

        Instead, it looks like they were ignorant, or failed to heed advice, and when Detroit did what they reasonably should do (since no other options were before them), Flynt panicked.


        • A fair point, Oscar.

          However, we really shouldn’t say “Flynt did X” or “Flynt did Y.” The EM made these decisions, apparently unilaterally.

          It seems to me that the EM system is broken.


          • Well, effectively, the EM is Flynt, for good or ill.

            I know some people object to the EM because it is one person making unilateral decisions that can go very wrong (see OP), but in a crisis, there is often very little room or time for more democratic decision making, especially amongst people who, quite arguably, got the community into the mess in the first place.

            But you may be right (I don’t know enough about MIs EM system/process to have any real opinion on it)? Perhaps the state should ensure that the appointed EM has access to a team of experts who can help them make sure things like this don’t happen? Ideally, that team would be the city employees, but I could see such employees as less than helpful, especially if they strongly resent the imposition of an EM, or have special loyalty to the displaced officials, so having a backup team at hand would not be a bad idea.

            Anyone well versed in how this is done in MI?


            • I have a several objections to this argument.

              The first is that having one person in charge in a crisis certainly has benefits, but as crises go, this one was all about budgets. There were no hurricanes, earthquakes or forest fires to contend with, here, just a bunch of human beings with conflicting needs and interests that couldn’t be sorted without a bunch of people eating variously-sized shit sandwiches.

              The second objection is that it seems like the EM has very little accountability in this system. They’re a political appointee, not even a directly-elected official, and they were appointed to run a heavily Democratic city by a Republican governor. Snyder seems to be a pretty decent governor, all things considered, but he was not really politically beholden to the people of Flynt in any way. That just seems to be a recipe for problems.


              • just a bunch of human beings with conflicting needs and interests that couldn’t be sorted without a bunch of people eating variously-sized shit sandwiches.

                Which strikes me as exactly why you want a person who is not directly accountable to those people. The elected officials would continue to struggle between their desire for re-election and their need to right the ship.

                Perhaps there does need to be a better measure of accountability for the EM, because obviously it can go pear-shaped and I most certainly want accountability in such a case, but a person who is not afraid to piss off the constituents is not a bad thing, as long as his acts are not harmful to the community in the aggregate (i.e. he gets the ship righted).

                Now having everyone enjoy a tainted water source, especially one tainted with lead, does strike me as a situation where some accountability needs to happen.


                  • I’m not admitted in Michigan, but general principles of government law tell me that these things are likely to be true:

                    1. The EM is a public official. So he’s going to enjoy at least qualified immunity from any claim arising out of the discharge of his official duties.

                    2. Assuming one goes through the state-level tort claim process, the EM can be sued in his official capacity at least for injunctive relief (a court order compelling him to do or not do something) and maybe for money against the city, the same as if the EM were the Mayor.

                    3. This EM law is a strange, anti-democratic animal, so I wouldn’t be surprised if there are extra immunities and other protections built into it — or that a judge might not impute one into the law in fulfillment of a legislative purpose. At the same time, a different judge might find the law so anti-democratic, so contrary to the typical system of checks and balances and division of powers and public accountability that are the fundamental hallmarks of a “republican system of government” as to ignore the Political Question doctrine and find that the vesting of such power with the EM actually violates the Guaranty Clause. I mean, I’m not explicitly saying that I would so hold were I on the bench, but I am saying that Judge Burt would listen to a fully-briefed argument on the issue before deciding one way or the other…


                • The EM should have vetted the river water source when considering it an option B.

                  The primary ‘father’ here is the water plant manager(s). In order for the source to have been brought on line, the corrosion control should have been pre-staged to deploy that option B.

                  Two questions I don’t see addressed:

                  Did the father know he had a lead problem?

                  Did the father know he needed a corrosion control solution?


                    • I’m very curious how difficult it would be to foresee a reaction between river water and the existing pipes. Where does it lie on the continuum between completely idiosyncratic behavior and one of the the first things you’d check for when changing water sources?


                      • The short answer to that: it is very easy to know if it would be a problem, if you as EM or city authority were curious about the question. The pipe composition is known, and the river water chemistry can be tested in a matter of hours

                        The medium length answer is that it should not be a problem at all, if the Flint River is really your best option. You can “easily” install a treatment plant an the source were you collect the river water, and modify the water chemistry as needed. I’m sure they already had a treatment plant, so it was a matter of modifying it to monitor the water conditions (it changes from day to day) and to store, handle, and add the required chemicals.

                        All of which requires additional time to design and build, and additional money for the construction and the ongoing consumption of chemicals (hence the “easily”) AND, more importantly, willingness to think about the boring details of chemistry, planning, and budgeting, with more Excel ™ spreadsheets involved.


                        • Thinking about it some more, Flint probably doesn’t have a full fledged treatment plant for raw (direct from the source) water. That would be in Detroit, who supplied white water directly into Flint.

                          That makes the whole concept of pumping water from the Flint River even more surprising. What kind of treatment facilities do they use? Just biological treatment (chlorination et al.) to kill bacteria? Even in MI there must be regulatory minimum treatment requirements.

                          Of course, health and safety rules and regulations are for wusses. We would have never conquered the West if we had to worry about water pollutants, water reservoirs, salinization, etc.. A real, decisive, manly, man will just throw a bottle of chorine in the water once and again and then go grab a beer.


                • Which strikes me as exactly why you want a person who is not directly accountable to those people. The elected officials would continue to struggle between their desire for re-election and their need to right the ship.

                  I think the problem here is that, by appointing the EM, you’re effectively saying, “Hey, voters of Flint, your interests are no longer worthy of political consideration!” without clearly saying that to anybody else. If the people of Flynt were the only people with a stake in the outcomes here, well, why have an EM law and appoint an EM at all?

                  The answer is that Flynt residents aren’t the only stakeholders, so this seems to figuratively move their concerns to the bottom of the list. It hardly seems like a coincidence that they’re the ones with lead in their water.


                  • pillsy, I’m beginning to like you.

                    Query to the commentariat – how do other states deal with communities that are effectively bankrupt? How well does that work out in the long run?


                  • “I think the problem here is that, by appointing the EM, you’re effectively saying, “Hey, voters of Flint, your interests are no longer worthy of political consideration!” without clearly saying that to anybody else.”

                    If the Flint voters are going to keep electing the same folks again and again and those officials don’t fix the issue then their interests aren’t worthy of political consideration. It’s not a problem, instead it is inevitable outcome of their poor choices.

                    Look at Puerto Rico, the people elected the same folks who ran it into the ground and now they want a bailout.


                  • Well, it’s pretty clear the voters aren’t the only stakeholders. The county & the state also have a considerable interest in the successful operation of the Flint. As notes above, Flint has been floundering for a long time, which says to me that the state was actually very patient and willing to allow Flint to try and find a way to recover on it’s own. For whatever reasons, political, economic, Flint could not recover, so the other stakeholders took action.

                    And it’s not like the voters are completely out in the cold, is it? The EM is only there to right the financial ship, and city government has other duties that are not explicitly financial, so those parts of the system keep chugging along. Did the city council get disbanded and all elected officials removed from office?

                    Hell, I honestly would not be surprised if some or all of the city council of Flint had not quietly passed word to the Governor that an EM might be a good idea. The presence of an EM can serve as a wonderful distraction from other issues, and provide political cover for necessary but unpopular decisions.


            • Oscar,
              Pittsburgh got put under “enhanced supervision” from the State (this has actual consequences including increased ability to “bargain” (read armtwist) with the local unions)… but we didn’t need any Emergency Manager.

              You get someone from outside to come in and look at the budget, give some recommendations. Let the political people figure out who gets the pork and gravy.


              • The problem with that idea (which was brought up in some form by the Democratic guberanatorial candidate in ’14) is that city leaders don’t have to follow the recommedations. The local politicians have to deal with other groups (such as police and fire unions). These groups might want better pay or benefits and the city has to do something to placate them. The EM is not perfect but it was designed to go around those concerns to right the financial ship. There were issues with this EM, but I don’t think the alternative would really work.


                • Dennis,
                  The police and fire unions hate our current mayor. There’s very little that they can really do about it, other than advocate to get his liberal butt kicked out of office.

                  With the state giving recommendations, Pittsburgh has been able to do just fine, so I’m not certain why you particularly dismiss the idea so quickly — is Flint that much worse off?

                  (Pittsburgh does have a handy “we wrote this into state law” thing where police have to live in the city, which I fully support continuing. We got it when everyone and sundry was fleeing for the suburbs or places far younder, but it’s still a fair idea. If you’re going to protect a place, live there and have a stake in the community.)


          • The decision that was made by the EM could have just as easily been made by the elected city council.

            The issue, it seems, is that the EM assumed that Detroit wouldn’t screw Flint for dropping out of the water plan. That’s an assumption that anyone could have made.


              • Less arguing, fewer people trying to shoot everyone trying to be productive.
                (yeah, we’ve got a real firecracker on our local council. She’s voted for one thing in the current term, and that was to praise a dog local to her district).


  4. Dennis,
    Believe me when I say it could have been much, much worse.
    You could have had a bonafide chemical spill, and then had the government (and the corporation responsible, naturally) insist that there’s nothing wrong with the water.


    Fuckers ain’t responsible to anyone, and don’t fucking care who they kill, either.

    Flint gets justice, because that’s how they do it in the ol’ Republican strongholds. Down South? Justice is years late, if it’s coming at all. You can’t count on government, and you can’t count on corporations either. Just a bunch of Yanks pissed off that someone isn’t getting the proper information to figure out what the fuck is wrong with their kids.


  5. Thanks everyone for a mostly civil discussion about this. You did better than Cher did. ;)

    What I think will be a fallout of this Flint mess at least when it comes to state politics is not going to be good. From the 80s onward, the state GOP didn’t give much thought to the industrial towns in East Michigan like Flint or Detroit as they were struggling. A Republican governor like George Romney did have some interest in urban issues, but more recent GOP governors like John Engler were not as interested.

    Snyder is different. I think he came in wanting to fix the economic situation and that meant focusing on cities. It might not have been the way Democrats wanted, but I really do think Snyder believed that for Michigan to prosper, everyone had to prosper. I think that was the force behind having EMs in Detroit or Flint. Because of this fiasco I have to think the next Republican governor will basically let the cities hang. They won’t think its worth it if everyone goes after you when things go wrong.

    Maybe that won’t happen, but I tend to think it will.


    • As far as I’m aware, the problem was detected “reasonably quickly” (for a large organization) and getting addressed. Makin’ political hay out of it is still fair cricket… but it’s a far cry from what I posted above about Harriman. That’s general malfeasance of an alarming degree.


      • In a way, yes.

        Mind you, I don’t think Governor Snyder allowed children to be poisoned with lead. And said governor is working with city and state officials to try to deal with the mess.

        What I’m trying to say is that a future Republican governor might see all of this and say it isn’t worth it and just allow benign neglect. It’s happened before and it could happen again. What I think is unique about Snyder is that he is concerned about the entire state, not just the areas that are Republican. That hasn’t always been the case with more recent Republican leaders. A future governor might see all of this and just focus on the more sucessful areas of the state and just ignore places like Flint, Detroit and Saginaw.


  6. This is largely a rewriting of history. I have debunked much of this in my post this morning titled “The GOP’s #FlintWaterCrisis blame game continues as Republicans freak out over protest rally planned for today”. The fact is that the elected city officials (a) had no power to make ANY decisions under their Snyder-appointed Emergency Managers and (b) never, ever agreed to use the Flint River as a water source after Detroit announced it was jacking up their water rates by suddenly deciding to renegotiate a nearly 50-year contract. Keep in mind that Detroit was under an Emergency Manager, Kevyn Orr, at the time. He was also appointed by Snyder. In other words, this largely boils down to a pissing match between two state-appointed overseers who should have been working together for the benefit of all their constituents. Except that, in Michigan under our CEO governor, citizens are “constituents”, they are customers from whom the largest profit possible must be extracted to enhance the shareholders wealth.


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