By Jan Worth-Nelson
The month of June delivered a series of blows to progress toward clean drinking water and restoring trust for the city’s weary residents.
At a June 26 meeting, after four hours of raucous infighting, the City Council declined to sign on to Mayor Karen Weaver’s proposal for a 30-year-contract with the Great Lakes Water Authority, an option for continuing water delivery to the city that had been under consideration for several months.
Council members contended they had not had enough time to study the implications. Two council members, Herbert Winfrey and Monica Galloway, presented alternative proposals but the Mayor protested the council had had plenty of time and consideration of the alternate proposals would require an untenable process of vetting.
MDEQ strikes back with Safe Drinking Water Act lawsuit
- Two days later, in response, citing federal provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality initiated legal action to override the council’s inaction and order the city into agreement with the GLWA proposal.
State board revokes water bill penalty moratorium
- On the same day, the Receivership Transition Advisory Board (RTAB), a state-appointed body overseeing the city in transition from its last emergency manager, struck down a moratorium on putting unpaid water bills on county tax rolls. This means that people who don’t pay their water bills will see their outstanding balances on their July 17 tax bill, and nonpayment could lead to imposition on the home. However, the RTAB did approve a three-month extension to the current contract with the GLWA, a delay the council had demanded, voicing concerns about water rates under the long-term proposal.
Mayor orders city not to transfer liens
While the city’s finance director, David Sabuda, said lifting the moratorium might provide the city millions of dollars, the Mayor herself registered an objection, and ordered Sabuda not to transfer liens to the county.
“I do not agree with the RTAB’s decision,” she said in a statement released June 28, though she said the council’s refusal to sign on to the proposal “means the City will now have to purchase water at a much higher price.”
Reacting to the MDEQ lawsuit, Weaver stated, “While disappointing that the state and federal government are now involved in making a decision we as City leaders should be making for Flint, I cannot say that I am surprised.
“We were notified that legal action would be a consequence of Council choosing not to meet the requirements set before them to approve a long-term water source for Flint,” she said. “The recommendation I put forward months ago is the best option to protect public health and is supported by the public health community.”
Speaking after the June 26 council meeting, Council president Kerry Nelson voiced exasperation at the state of affairs, suggesting the state’s urgency now is an ironic twist from what he described as its lack of action in 2015 as the crisis unfolded.
Six more indicted, five for involuntary manslaughter
Also in June, six more players in the water crisis—bringing the total to 15 and including several top state officials—were indicted by State Attorney General Bill Schuette. Five of the six face charges of involuntary manslaughter related to 12 deaths from Legionnaire’s Disease in the summer and fall of 2015.
Those indictments included Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon, former Emergency Manager Darnell Earley—who had already been indicted on other charges—and former City of Flint Water Department Manager Howard Croft.
Also indicted for involuntary manslaughter were former Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s Drinking Water Chief Liane Shekter-Smith and Water Supervisor Stephen Busch.
Dr. Eden Wells, chief medical executive of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, was charged with obstruction of justice and lying to a peace officer.
EVM editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.