A couple months ago, I took Michigan's Gov. Rick Snyder and his administration to task for their horrible handling of the Flint water crisis. Untold numbers of Flint residents, including thousands of highly vulnerable children, have been poisoned by lead-contaminated drinking water due to improper/inadequate treatment of water drawn from the Flint River that caused old pipelines to leach lead. This can cause learning disabilities, and in some cases seizures, coma and even death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Furthermore, 87 cases of Legionnaires' Disease, a waterborne disease, were reported in Genesee County from June 2014 through November 2015, resulting in 10 deaths, Gov. Rick Snyder announced in January. Legionnaires' Disease is a lung infection that can cause severe respiratory problems and sometimes is fatal.
This catastrophe just keeps getting worse. Fingers are pointing, hacks are spinning and heads are rolling, everywhere you look.
At the time I wrote the blog, thoughts of Hurricane Katrina and local vs. state/federal culpability came to mind. A couple of astute readers, including my esteemed co-blogger K.N. McBride, have noted in the comments section that there are good reasons why Flint city officials should also be held accountable.
I will address their comments, but first it is worth revisiting Katrina to explain how that situation differed from what has transpired in Flint.
In the past, I have written about how unfair it was for the press to pile on the Bush administration for the 2005 Katrina fiasco in New Orleans. Granted, Bush chose a bad administrator when he appointed Michael Brown to head up FEMA. The administration clearly could have done a better job, and Bush made an ass out of himself with his stupid "You're doing a heck-of-a-job, Brownie" statement. But with all of that being said, emergency management is primarily a local concern. The city or county is supposed to be the first line of defense, followed by the state (second tier) and feds (third tier). FEMA is not supposed to be a first-responder agency.
It is worth noting that New Orleans' inept mayor at the time, Ray Nagin, is now in the slammer because he was massively corrupt, and it seems his corruption was exceeded only by his incompetence. Furthermore, Louisiana's governor at the time, Kathleen Blanco, was equally clueless. She delayed ordering a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans until it was too late, and failed to follow the Southern Louisiana Evacuation Plan, which stated that residents without private transportation were to be evacuated by buses. But alas, the buses simply sat idle in parking lots, soon to be sunken in murky water.
The Katrina fiasco demonstrated incompetence and idiocy at all levels, just like Flint did. But this is where the similarities end. I firmly believe that the local and state officials were far more culpable for the loss of hundreds of lives than was the Bush administration. But in Flint, the state government appears to be the main culprit.
It is true that Flint officials played a role in the contaminated water fiasco. In March 2013, the Flint City Council voted 7-1 to sign on with the Karegondi Water Authority (KWA) rather than continue purchasing water from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Authority, which gets its water from Lake Huron. This despite knowing that the pipeline the KWA was constructing to Lake Huron would not be completed until 2016, and that the Flint River would likely be the primary drinking water source in the interim.
Former Emergency Manager Darnell Earley implemented the plan, and former Mayor Dayne Walling was one of the local officials assuring residents that the Flint River drinking water was safe, despite many complaints about its taste, odor and appearance. And lest we forget, General Motors had stopped using Flint River water to cool iron castings at an engine plant because it was too corrosive and was causing rust. Yet despite this, the city, with the state's blessings, wanted to source drinking water from the odious Flint River? Incredible.
Although the Environmental Protection Agency was late to intervene (the regional EPA administrator was shown the door for her contribution to the Screw-up Party), the state government played the biggest role. The Michigan Constitution treats local governments as adjuncts of state government. Ergo, if incompetence and/or lawlessness occurs at the local level and cannot be corrected by local voters, the state must step in and make things right.
The Detroit papers have been loaded with stories about publicly released emails from the Snyder administration showing bungling and infighting by Department of Environmental Quality bureaucrats about the Flint water issue. They disagreed on such matters as how serious it was, how urgent a response was needed, what type of testing and monitoring was needed, whether the EPA's guidelines were being properly followed, and how much responsibility the state -- as opposed to EPA -- had to oversee the water treatment. Some officials, such as former Snyder right-hand-man Dennis Muchmore, expressed concerns -- now apparently accurate -- that too many Snyder administration officials were blowing off Flint residents' concerns.
Indeed, an insular arrogance and nonchalant attitude seemed to prevail in the administration, which is unconscionable when you consider the devastation lead contamination will wreak in the thousands of children who will face lifelong struggles due to brain damage. Although he did apologize to Flint residents and promise to correct the problem, Snyder appears to have been playing the role of Hillary Clinton with his evasiveness and misleading statements about what he knew, when he knew it, and what his responses were. He may not be as flagrant a liar as Hillary, but that's not saying much.
With all of this being said, K.N. McBride is correct that Flint would not have been under so much state control if the city had properly kept its accounts in order. Widespread fiscal incompetence and corruption forced the state to install a series of emergency managers to help right the ship. Regrettably, the emergency managers often have been as inept as those they sought to replace.
This is a sad, sad spectacle, and it will drag on for years. Numerous lawsuits have been filed, and Democrat presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have latched on to it for political gain.
With Donald Trump and Marco Rubio behaving like 13-year-olds in a food fight, a wretched, moribund economy, 93 million adults not even in the workforce, chaos in the Middle East and numerous other bleak current events, this horror show is the last thing we needed.