A Failure for the Flint Community
The victims of the Flint Water Crisis deserve to hear the truth.
In the years leading up to and during the Flint Water Crisis, Governor Snyder headed the executive branch of the Michigan State government. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, and Flint’s emergency managers – all responsible for the Flint Water Crisis – reported to him.
The buck literally stopped with Governor Snyder.
Governor Snyder has admitted that the Flint Water Crisis was a failure at all levels of government, including in his own administration, and that he takes responsibility for the state’s role in the crisis. However, in March 2022, Governor Snyder used the Fifth amendment to avoid telling the truth about the Flint Water Crisis to Flint residents under oath.
In September 2021, a state administration board approved a contract up to nearly $1.5 million for the legal defense of Rick Snyder on charges related to the Flint Water Crisis, and as of January 2021, in total, Michigan taxpayers have paid at least $27 million in legal defense fees related to this catastrophe. Meanwhile, government officials like Rick Snyder are hiding behind the Fifth amendment, refusing to share the truth about the Snyder administration’s role in this government-made disaster.
Career civil service ppl…made terrible decisions…we have to live with the consequences.Governor Rick Snyder
Rick Snyder Disregarded the Needs of Low-Income and Minority Communities Throughout His Tenure as Governor of Michigan
We’re poor. And because we don’t have anybody on our side that has any clout, Snyder didn’t care.Flint resident John Pemberton, 67
Rick Snyder’s policy record as governor explains his blatant disregard for the people of Flint throughout the Flint Water Crisis and his failure to act in a timely manner. Throughout his governorship, Rick Snyder repeatedly pushed policies that were harmful to minority and low-income communities. Here are several examples of Snyder’s policies that adversely impacted working-class families:
- Snyder’s 2011 tax reform policies imposed higher individual tax burdens and eliminated working class tax exemptions. Under his original 2011 tax reform proposal, an analysis found “20 percent of households earning the lowest incomes in Michigan — $17,000 or less — will see their taxes climb as a percentage of their income by more than 10 times that of those in the top 1 percent of households earning $335,000 or more.” (M Live, 03/08/11)
- Snyder ultimately opted to reduce the earned-income tax credit from 20 percent to 6 percent – trimming the average family benefit from $432 To $140. (Interlochen Public Radio, 05/10/11) In November 2011, the Associated Press reported that “low-Income families will see their tax breaks shrink starting next year by about $260 million annually while businesses will get a $1.1 billion tax break starting in January and a $1.7 billion tax break the year after.”
- Snyder pushed for gas tax and vehicle registration fee increases that adversely impact working families. In 2015, Snyder signed a road-spending package that increased the gas tax and vehicle registration fees – a measure that would harm working class families and shift $600 million from the state’s general fund, which would harm spending priorities such as education and public safety. (Crain’s Detroit, 11/10/15)
- Snyder’s 2011-2012 budget cut education spending – the cumulative effects of which resulted in a net decrease in per pupil education spending for his first term. A 2014 analysis found that education spending for school aid had a net drop of $235 million for Snyder’s first term. (M Live, 02/04/15)
- Snyder’s 2011-2012 budget cut also cut welfare programs, law enforcement funding, and millions for environmental protection.
Snyder’s Emergency Managers
Governor Snyder appointed the Flint emergency managers between 2011 and 2015 – stripping the people of Flint of the ability to meet their City’s challenges themselves through their own elected leaders.
In a 2017 report, the Michigan Civil Rights Commission said that “systemic racism” played a significant role in the government’s poor response and disregard for the concerns of Flint residents, and agrees that “the absence of public input,” with regard to the Emergency Manager Law, “either directly or through officials they elected is a very significant violation of the principles of environmental justice” and that an emergency manager “from outside the community does not share the community’s interests, and may not even understand them or know what they are.”
The Commission concluded that “had the emergency manager law focused on the financial health of the city and the welfare of its residents, and not just on cost-cutting measures, and/or had it allowed for meaningful involvement of the community when it came to the very basic needs of life, clean water and clean air, this too could have served to mitigate or even prevent the water crisis.”
The commission believes that we have answered our initial question, ‘Was race a factor in the Flint Water Crisis?’ Our answer is an unreserved and undeniable — ‘yes’.The Flint Water Crisis: Systemic Racism Through the Lens of Flint, Report of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission, February 17, 2017
Flint’s emergency managers, whose authority superseded that of local elected officials, made reckless decisions that helped bring on the Flint Water Crisis and make it worse.
- In June 2013, Governor Snyder’s appointed Flint emergency manager Ed Kurtz signed a contract to use the Flint River as a water source.
- In April 2014, Governor Snyder’s appointed Flint emergency manager Darnell Earley touted Flint’s switch to the Flint River for water supplies, calling it “indeed the best choice for the city of Flint going forward.”
- In 2015, Governor Snyder’s appointed Flint emergency manager Gerald Ambrose refused to consider a return to Detroit Water even after Flint residents reported getting sick from drinking and bathing in the contaminated river water. More than a month after Flint officials learned of high lead test results at the home of LeeAnne Walters, Mr. Ambrose called the idea of switching back to Detroit water “incomprehensible” and claimed that the Flint water was “just as safe.”
Governor Snyder had complete power and authority to direct the Flint Emergency Managers to undertake actions that were necessary and proper to protect the health and safety of Flint residents and also had the power to remove the emergency managers from their position at any time – but failed to do so.
Snyder’s Dereliction of Duty
In October 2014, six months after the switch to the Flint River, the MDEQ sent Governor Snyder a “briefing paper” discussing various water quality issues and infrastructure problems in the City of Flint affecting their ability to distribute safe water. That same month, Governor Snyder sent his senior advisor, Valerie Brader, to meet with MDEQ officials about Flint’s water quality issues. Ms. Brader then emailed the Governor’s senior staff that the situation in Flint was “an urgent matter to fix,” and recommended an immediate return to Detroit Water.
Nevertheless, the City of Flint’s Emergency Manager, Gerald Ambrose, refused, citing costs. Governor Snyder had the power to overrule Ambrose and return to Detroit Water, but he took no action at the time.
Despite all of the warnings he received and concerns from Flint residents, Governor Snyder waited until October 8, 2015 — a full year after his staff made the recommendation to return to Detroit Water — to order the return to Lake Huron for drinking water by reconnecting to the Detroit Water and Sewer Department. When Governor Snyder made the order to switch back to Detroit Water, the change happened the very next day. That’s the kind of power that Governor Snyder had – and he failed to use it to protect the health and safety of the Flint community.
The Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), led by Governor Snyder’s appointee during the Flint Water Crisis, failed the Flint community.
In June 2013, the MDEQ told the City of Flint it did not need to implement corrosion control at the time it switched to the Flint River. Nearly two years later, in February 2015, the MDEQ lied to the EPA telling it that Flint had a “corrosion control program” even though the MDEQ knew that was not true. It was not until August 2015 that the MDEQ changed its mind and directed the City to begin adding phosphates as a corrosion control measure to the water in Flint.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) — the state agency responsible for ensuring public health in Michigan – hid important information related to the Flint Water Crisis from the public.
In the Fall of 2014, the MDHHS learned of serious health concerns occurring after, and as a result of, the water switch, namely an outbreak of legionella disease that appeared to be linked to the Flint River water. The MDHHS concealed this information from the public.