Ananich on the water crisis sixth anniversary: Hoping for justice, but “Man, could Flint just catch a break?”

By Jan Worth-Nelson

Sitting in a small room in the State Capitol waiting for a floor vote Friday afternoon, State Sen. Jim Ananich, also Senate Minority Leader, made a call to Flint.  He had agreed to offer updates to East Village Magazine, all of whose staff are sheltering in place, about the sixth anniversary of the Flint water crisis, the prospect of action from the State Attorney General’s office, and how the city he grew up in and has represented in Lansing for ten years is weathering the latest plague.

“It feels like, man, when are we ever going to catch a break?”  Ananich said, reflecting on the city’s confrontation with the coronavirus.  “When it rains it pours — but it seems like it’s always raining in Flint.

“I’m still an optimistic person by nature, but it seems like whenever something starts moving here  — whether it’s schools, or in the neighborhoods, or downtown –anytime we get one of those parts doing better, we get hit again.”

At almost the same moment, the state health department released its latest numbers, as happens every day at 3 p.m., announcing six more Genesee County COVID deaths, bringing the total to 151, and a total of 1434 cases.  Genesee County now ranks fifth hardest hit in the state–and, in fact, has racked up more cases and more deaths than eight states.

“The poor communities always get hit hardest, and so many who get hit hard are African-American men.  And even with COVID here it goes — they’re getting hit again,” Ananich said. Indeed, the latest data show 50 percent of those who’ve died in the county are African-American;  60 percent male.

“If you live in Flint and you don’t know somebody who has it or has passed, you must not have lived here very long,”  Ananich said.

Jim Ananich (from Twitter account)

Chair of the Greater Flint Health Coalition, Ananich said he hasn’t yet been tested, but knows the need for testing is urgent.  He and other leaders are pressing for more testing while facing a lack of testing supplies and coordination from the federal government. He said he’s gratified to see the testing setup started last week at Atwood Stadium.  But he knows the path forward, once again, is tough.

Today, pressed by EVM, he reflected on the significance of the water crisis and what it means that Attorney General Dana Nessel and her Flint investigation team have been almost mum about their Flint-based prosecutorial work.

Six years ago Saturday, April 25, was when Mayor Dayne Walling flipped a switch as a group of community leaders watched, to put the city onto Flint River water–the fateful move that led to a now-infamous domino effect of tragedies and repercussions.

“Obviously with any crisis, whether it’s a hurricane or what we’re going through, as time goes by there’s less attention to it…but people need to realize we’re far from recovered,”  he said. “It has affected everything.”

“A lot of the pipes have been replaced, a lot of the resources are there, the water plant upgrades, health care programs for the short term, but we’re a long ways off from fully recovered, whether that’s health, keeping an eye on the cognitive development of those kids, health care for families whether they have children or otherwise.

“The overall quality of the water coming from Detroit, processed and transmitted from our plant–there’s no question that the water is better.”

“But if people thought that was the only aspect of the water crisis that determined if everything was fixed,  if they interpreted that as everything is fixed, they have misunderstood the whole situation,”  he said.

He’s hoping among other ongoing efforts will be further progress with the Flint Registry to voluntarily track people, and to attempt to address the lack of trust that was one of the most pronounced effects of the crisis.

“It’s real  — that distrust — and  we have to get people engaged, into the processes, so we can push for more medical care, push for more of the services  we’re going to need over time.”

Bear in mind, Ananich said, “We were a distressed community before the water crisis happened. I don’t think you want to take us back to where we were six years ago — we have to rebuild the community in so many ways, our neighborhoods and schools.”

And accompanying that anxiety is Ananich’s coursing concern about justice.

“When a manmade crisis like this happens — through incompetence and apathy and total lack of empathy,” he said, “we have a responsibility not only to build it back, but to make it better.”

April 25, 2020 is potentially important because six years marks the expiration of the statute of limitations on some criminal prosecutions.

As the effects of the water crisis became apparent in what Ananich called, “the largest man-made environmental disaster in history up to that time,” and as Flint activists fought the effects of layer upon layer of revelations of official incompetence and malfeasance, indictments of 15 state, county and local officials eventually were handed down by then Attorney General Bill Schuette.

While they were hailed at the time as providing a measure of justice, they did not include Gov. Rick Snyder or his right-hand man in Flint, Rich Baird, at the time called his “transformation manager.”

The cases had been churning their way through the system when Gretchen Whitmer was elected governor in November, 2018, defeating Schuette, her Republican rival.  In the months following, a trove of new documents was unearthed, throwing into question the credibility of the investigations.

Many in Flint were confused and distressed last summer when the state’s newly elected attorney general, Dana Nessel, dropped all charges on all the remaining indictments and appointed a duo of investigators, Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud and Wayne County prosecutor Kym Worthy, to start over.  They insisted the prosecutions had been compromised by the late appearance of what could be crucial evidence.

Flint water activists at the June, 2019, town hall with Fadwa Hammoud and Kym Worthy (Photo by Tom Travis)

Hammoud, Worthy and a team of lawyers came to Flint for a town hall last summer, and promised a vocal and restless crowd they would vigorously continue the investigations.  But since then, there have been few to no leaks, and while Hammoud and Worthy acknowledged the statute of limitation and promised to work fast, nothing has so far emerged into public view.

Last week Nessel’s office issued a short statement saying the team, which set up an office in Flint with a staff of 20 in January,  was unconcerned about the date and were continuing their work.

“At the town hall, after the charges were dropped, Hammoud and Worthy  expressed concerns about the statute of limitations,”  Ananich recalled.   So he and John Cherry, Flint’s 49th district state House Representative and a Flint neighbor of Ananich,  suggested a bill to extend the date.  While Ananich said there was initial support, it met opposition and foundered just as the coronavirus took over everything.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel (left) cutting the ribbon to the Flint office in December, 2019, with Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley and Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud (Photo by Paul Rozycki)

“I assume it was political–people suggesting we were going after Snyder,”  Ananich said, “but our intent was to give a tool to the prosecutors to take it wherever it was supposed to go.

“I would never tell Nessel who they should prosecute,”  he said. “I just wanted to make sure we had a chance for justice.   The people of Michigan, the taxpayers , spent millions of dollars because the state thought so little of us that they didn’t use proper corrosion control.”

His speculations now are that the AG’s team are working hard and implementing a plan.  The team of AG lawyers moved into a suite in the State office building downtown and have been seen making stops in the county courthouse, Ananich said — a suggestion something might be moving forward.

Ananich said Hammoud didn’t talk to him before she issued her statement this week, and that the AG’s office under Nessel has a record of keeping their cards close to their chest.

“I spoke to Schuette and his folks a lot more–there were a lot of press conferences– but in their case a  lot of times there was a lot of hoopla, a lot of sizzle but no steak,”  Ananich recalled.

Under the Nessel/Hammoud era, he said, “No one can say they’re running a political operation,  a political prosecution.”

“At first, I was concerned, nervous that there weren’t going to be charges, not enough time.”

But he now believes the state’s team “has every intention of bringing justice to Flint families.  If they run their operations like a criminal case, as long as it leads to accountability and justice I’m okay, as long as the indictments are wherever the law takes them.”

As for the statute of limitations,  “I assume that while there were crimes committed on that date, there were other crimes committed  after that date.”

“I don’t think they’re sweeping this  under the rug,”  he said.  “I think we will see charges.”

“I’m certain there were other crimes,” he said.  “There were plenty of opportunities for misconduct after April 25…It wasn’t that they aren’t doing anything — maybe they feel that they’ve got either the case, or it has gone further down the road than we think it has and there are other dates that they can look at.”

“Democrat or Republican, I’m a Flint resident first,”  Ananich said.  “I want accountability for Flint, I want justice for Flint families first.  If I didn’t think that was happening, if the end result is not something that I find to be a sign of a serious investigation, I’ll say something,  but as of late I feel like there is a sense of an investigation going on.”

What he saw happening under the Rick Snyder administration often troubled him, including the actions of Rich Baird, a Flint native appointed by Snyder to be his “transformation manager” in the city during the crisis.  Baird was never charged in the Schuette indictments.

Asked about recent reports on Baird’s Flint water crisis influence by investigative reporters Jordan Chariton and Jenn Dize in and Detroit’s Metro Times, Ananich said, “You can’t do an expose about Flint without talking about Baird–that would be tough.”

“I will say my experience with Rich, he was the ‘fixer,’ — it did feel often like the White House–he would seem to cut a check from his own pocket and say, ‘I’m doing this for you.’ But any checks he wrote were the taxpayers’ money.”

“The whole governor’s team back then never felt like they were  trying to deal with and solve the crisis that they created,” Ananich said, “but trying to stay one step ahead of the story and revitalize the governor’s image.”

“Rich’s job was to stamp out problems or fix things as opposed to one comprehensive strategy. He was the point person.  Whether Snyder knew about problems with the water and lied about it,  [as Chariton and Dize allege] that’s a matter for the criminal court.”

“Snyder’s political tombstone will read that he was the one who brought about the largest manmade environmental disaster in American history at the time, so he should get no positive credit for either the recovery or the decision to make the switch.”

“Whether he knew ahead of time, I don’t know.  I’m not a Rick Snyder defender, he made a lot of mistakes and his office was dishonest about a lot of things related to Flint.”

“Back then Snyder’s staff would complain that they didn’t have enough credibility with the people of Flint,” he recalled.  “They asked me what they could do about it.  I said,  Stop lying.  Just don’t say something you know not to be true.  They tried to discredit Dr. Mona {Hanna-Attisha, the Hurley pediatrician whose blood lead level data on her young patients blew open the crisis in the fall of 2015]  They tried to make it look like they didn’t do anything wrong — and I said, just fix it.”

In the meantime, waiting to see what the AG and her Flint team prosecutors do, Ananich says he will continue doing what he says is in his “lane.”

“I have to be a voice for Flint residents.  I have to be a steward for the taxpayers, get what we deserve, but not waste money.  My job is to fight for policies to make sure it never happens again, to press for those responsible being accountable.   Accountability comes from the criminal justice system.  I’ve got my lane.  I’m going to say what I have to say.”

Ananich,  who lives in Flint Seventh Ward with his wife Andrea and son Jacob, has been in the State Senate since 2013, when he won a special election for the 27th Senate District seat.  Now in his third term, Ananich was elected Senate Minority Leader in 2014 and again in 2018.

Ananich’s district covers a big chunk of Genesee County, including Burton City, Clio City, Flint City, Flint Township, Forest Township, Genesee Township, Mount Morris City, Mount Morris Township, Richfield Township, Swartz Creek City, Thetford Township and Vienna Township.

Before being elected to the State Senate, Ananich represented parts of Flint and Genesee County for one full term and a partial term in the state House of Representatives. He also was on the Flint City Council for four years, including one year as president.

EVM Editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at








Author: East Village Magazine

A Non-profit, Community News Magazine Since 1976

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