By Meghan Christian
After a week of marathon-like meetings, the Flint City Council approved Resolution 170354.3, a 30-year contract with the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA), with a close vote of five to four on Tuesday, Nov. 21.
Those in favor were Eric Mays (First Ward), Maurice Davis (Second Ward), Santino Guerra (Third Ward), Jerri Winfrey-Carter (Fifth Ward), and Herbert Winfrey (Sixth Ward).
Those opposed were Kate Fields (Fourth Ward), Monica Galloway (Seventh Ward), L. Allan Griggs (Eighth Ward), and Eva Worthing (Ninth Ward).
To some residents among the audience of about 60, the deal with GLWA comes with too many costs and not enough benefits for the people of Flint.
Paul Jordan, 68, said, “First of all, this is a great deal, it’s a wonderful contract. It’s a wonderful contract for Great Lakes Water Authority and it’s a great contract for the State. And it’s a lousy contract for us.”
Other residents said they do not mind the idea of getting water from GLWA, but they do mind that under this deal, their conclusion is the City loses its ability to be independent and that the contract is for such an extended period of time.
Laura Sullivan, of Flint, an engineering professor at Kettering University and a board member of the Karegnondi Pipeline Authority, reminded the council that the people of Flint look to the council to protect their best interests. “The people of Flint only have you,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan went on to add that she did not have an issue with getting water from Detroit, but her issues were with the specifics of the contract with GLWA, stating that she believes GLWA does not have the best interests of the residents at heart.
“Who loses? The people who can’t afford water,” Sullivan stated, referring to an aspect of the contract that could mean a four percent per year water rate rise.
Several city council members assured residents that while their choice was not easy, they believed they were making the best choice for Flint and its residents.
In voting for the contract, Fifth Ward Councilperson Winfrey-Carter said, “I am going to make the best decision tonight that I think will take care of both my constituents and my city government.”
Third Ward Councilman Guerra shared this sentiment and later urged the rest of the council to make a vote based on their values. He too chose to vote “yes.”
“Today, I encourage all of my colleagues to vote with what you personally believe is right. We hear a lot of things from activists, other politicians, family members, outside sources that always tell you to vote one way or the other… But I will tell you, today when I go home I will be proud of this decision I made,” Guerra said.
He then added that if residents were displeased with the vote, they should continue to voice their concerns.
“If you are unhappy with the individuals that are your representatives, you should let them know, but… be willing to work with them… If this is still bugging you come election time, run against them. You have a voice, you have the opportunity to get involved,” Guerra said.
Sherry Hayden, a resident of the Seventh Ward and vice-president of the College Cultural Neighborhood Association, began her commentary by stating, “GLWA stinks…”
Alleging that state officials, in particular the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, were pressuring the council to vote yes, Hayden declared, “They throw crumbs at you expecting you to take the bait. You know the amended agreement is a shame. It’s unenforceable.”
She continued, “The governor will be giddy that he can move on and forget Flint. GLWA makes out like a fat rat for 30 years…We don’t have a democracy here, so quit pretending we do.”
Present in the front row throughout the public comments and the vote, Mayor Karen Weaver, who recently overcame a recall action against her and had supported the GLWA contract since the recommendation was formulated last spring, stood just before the vote to offer her thoughts.
“I want the state out of here,” she said, referring to the fact that the council’s delays had led the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to sue city council, essentially forcing a decision that had been in mediation in the courtroom of U.S. District Court Judge David Lawson. The council, just days after an election that installed five new council members, had gone to Detroit last Friday for a mediation session with the judge and MDEQ officials.
In part of that wrangling, state officials had suggested that further delays by the council to decide could lead to the state appointing a receiver, which could mean another emergency financial manager — a much detested possibility to the council, the mayor and many Flint activists who have protested what they regard as a violation of home rule and democracy during the tenure of four emergency managers in the city since 2011. Two of the city’s EM’s, Darnell Earley and Jerry Ambrose, have been indicted by the state attorney general for their alleged role in the water crisis.
“It is time to prove that we can make our own decisions and we can govern ourselves,” Weaver declared. While the emergency managers have been gone from Flint since 2015, many actions by the city council still are subject to a body called the Receivership Transition Advisory Board (RTAB), a panel selected by the governor to oversee municipal financial matters for the state after the last EM left in 2015.
The GLWA vote comes as one of the culminating events of almost four years of the water crisis. As detailed in a December East Village Magazine overview here, the City Council had voted to go with the Karegnondi Pipeline, an alternate route to Lake Huron water under construction in 2013, under then Emergency Manager Michael Brown. Ostensibly to save water in the interim, the city, then under Emergency Manager Darnell Earley, switched away from Detroit water to the Flint River in April, 2014.
Soon after, residents began complaining about brown water and a multitude of physical symptoms. Water officials failed to use anti-corrosive chemicals for the river water, which is more corrosive than Lake Huron water, causing lead to leach out of the city’s aging pipes and causing the blood lead levels of thousands in the city to climb into toxicity. The failure to add anti-corrosives, an EPA-required precaution which many have said would have cost less than $200 a day, has been described as the single most direct cause for the lead–in-the-water debacle.” The city went back on Detroit water in October, 2015 and in 2016, Earley was indicted for his role in the crisis.
Ironically,the now-completed Karegnondi Pipeline was the star of a “celebration of connecting to Lake Huron Water,” including an open house and tours of the Genesee County water treatment plant in Columbiaville on the same day as the council vote. Raw, untreated water from the Karegnondi pipeline will serve as a backup for the GLWA water source. An emergency backup water source is required by the EPA.
Seventh Ward Councilperson Galloway, an outspoken opponent of the 30-year contract, aimed to end on a hopeful note for the City of Flint. “We still are on a long road, and I believe we have a great council and I am looking forward to working with everybody… Now, you can really move forward and see what recovery looks like, so I am excited about that,” Galloway said.
EVM Managing Editor Meghan Christian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. EVM editor Jan Worth-Nelson contributed to this report.