By Tom Travis
A group of seven Flint residents gathered in front of City Hall on Tuesday to announce they had collected more than 1,000 signatures on two separate petitions. The group was led by activist and Flint water warrior, Claire McClinton, who said she was going to deliver the signed petitions to the City Clerk.
“This is a message from the residents of the City of Flint,” McClinton said to members of the media. The two petitions concerned water affordability and a demand for a permanent ban on water shut-offs, McClinton explained.
“We pay the highest water rates in the nation and we need a water affordability plan yesterday. As we were gathering signatures, people were snatching it out of our hands so they could sign. They are looking for some relief from the oppressive water rates,” McClinton said.
She added, “A water affordability plan is not anything new. It’s not anything unique. This is something that Flint is long over due, and even before the water disaster we were being gouged in our water bills.”
The petitions are targeted to Mayor Sheldon Neeley and the Flint City Council and demand an ordinance be passed on each separate issue.
Following the protest in front of City Hall McClinton and fellow activist Vicki Marx walked into the 2nd floor City Clerk’s office and delivered the petitions.
Every Ward represented on petitions
“The signatures on these petitions are representative of every ward in the city and “every ethnicity is represented Black, brown, white. From every ward across this city, multi-generational, old and young. So this is a broad swath of our city in this petition,” McClinton said.
McClinton said the group hopes to extend the time to gather signatures but the first round of petitions was delivered to the City Clerk today. McClinton said they will continue to speak at City Council meetings and urge the council to adopt an ordinance.
“The Water Crisis Settlement is way far short of any kind of justice.”
“During this water crisis we have seen millions and millions of dollars come into this town and it never reached the residents. The Flint Water Crisis Settlement is way far short of any kind of justice for the city of Flint,” McClinton said.
“Many of the city of Flint residents are going to be totally skipped, unheard and ignored in this settlement. So now this is our turn and the voices of the people must rise to what we want to remedy for what has happened to us,” McClinton said.
“We’re not going to sit back and let others benefit off our crisis.”
Referring to the $94 million federal American Rescue Plan stimulus funds that have begun to flow into the city, McClinton asserted, “The Biden Rescue Plan money is our money. It does not belong to the Mayor, it does not belong to the City Council, it does not belong to State Reps, it don’t belong to State Senators and it certainly don’t belong to the Governor.
“That money was directly to us. We are not going to sit back and let others benefit off of our crisis. It is time for us to speak up for what we want. That is our money.
“This is just one step [the petitions] in using the money towards a water affordability plan. Other cities have water affordability plans and we, more than anybody, need such a plan to get away from these oppressive and abusive water rates that we pay. And by the way, water we can not use,” McClinton added.
Water rates in Flint
When asked for examples of the cost of water in Flint, some of the protesters said their own monthly water bills are well over $100 per month. Bishop Bernadel Jefferson said that the monthly water bill for her church is $75 and no one has used the church building for more than a year.
Activist and Flint resident Vicki Marx said that on her recent $70 water bill $10.50 was for the actual charges of water and sewer, the rest of it, almost $60, is service charge. Activist Quincy Murphy suggested that what the City Council can do is to adjust the service fee on each water bill.
McClinton pleaded, “And please, residents, understand 60 per cent of your water bill is being paid to the bond holders, to stakeholders. You’re not even paying for water. You’re paying to be exploited by Wall Street. Water should not be a commodity. We need water to in order to live. It’s inhumane and outrageous for someone to make a profit out of water, something that we need to survive.”
“I have five rain barrels in my yard. I filter the water to drink and cook with and my water bill runs anywhere from $70 to $90 per month. The bill doesn’t stay the same even though my usage stays the same,” Marx said.
EVM noted to the protesters that often city officials refer to water as a “commodity,” something that has to be paid for. McClinton responded, “We have to stop water from being a commodity. Many residents are not being heard from about how outrageous and what a hardship a water rate is on them.”
In his State of the City address in December, 2020, Neeley declared that water is a human right. In 2020 the City of Flint created a Water Payment Assistance Fund to provide up to $225 in assistance to help low- and moderate-income families pay their water bills.
In 2010 The United Nations issued a resolution declaring safe and clean drinking water and sanitation a human right essential to life. The UN’s declaration read in part, “Water and sanitation facilities and services must be available and affordable for everyone, even the poorest. The costs for water and sanitation services should not exceed 5% of a household’s income, meaning services must not affect peoples’ capacity to acquire other essential goods and services, including food, housing, health services and education.”
“The water crisis is far from over.”
Perkins said she spoke to a woman recently who thought the water problems in Flint were all resolved. Perkins explained to her that, “It’s long from over. We are still sitting in water lines two or three days a week to get bottled water. And we live in the Great Lake State — come on.”
Vicki Marx referenced a recent State of Michigan statistic that had some Flint water testing at more than 3,000 ppb (parts per billion). Marx said that according to that same website there are “seven or eight houses” in Flint that are testing at 200 ppb. “You tell me that the water isn’t safe,” retorted Marx.
The language of the petition
Protesters read aloud each petition. “We the undersigned residents respectfully petition the Flint City Council and the Mayor of the City of Flint to institute a water shut off protection ordinance to permanently protect Flint residents from water shut-offs.”
The second petition read, “We the undersigned residents respectfully petition the Flint City Council and the Mayor of the City of Flint to pass a water affordability and equity ordinance for the purpose of increasing the availability or affordability of basic water and sewage service. To ensure a fair process for all consumers establishing for these purposes a water for all discount programs and a water customer review board. Establishing the eligibility requirements for the water for all discount programs, its distribution and recertification requirements. Providing for the operational independence of the water customer review board as a neutral intermediary. Authorize to conduct problem-solving investigation of a delinquency. Notice be offered the opportunity to enter into an installment payment agreement subject to certain terms and conditions.”
EVM Managing Editor Tom Travis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.