After Flint Water Crisis, Govenor Rick Snyder Escapes Justice—For Now (VIDEO)
Although Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette announced at a press conference Friday that six state employees have been charged for their alleged roles in Flint’s ongoing water crisis, Democrats have one key question of their own:
Why wasn’t Gov. Rick Snyder charged also?
Flint’s poisoned water: what role did rick snyder play in this crisis?
A total of eight state workers now face criminal charges. The ninth person, also a Flint employee, pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor and is cooperating with Schuette’s investigation into how Flint’s water became so contaminated with lead.
Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint) noted:
“I’ll be more impressed when we start seeing some folks higher on the food chain being held accountable. If we do that and make significant policy changes, we can start to restore some trust in the system.”
And when it comes to the people of Flint, their trust in the system has been horribly betrayed.
A report issued in late June by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that when the source of the city’s water supply was switched to the Flint River, without the appropriate corrosion control measures, young children who drank this water showed blood lead levels that were markedly higher than when the Detroit water system was the source of the water.
“After the switch back to the Detroit water system, the percentage of children under six years with elevated blood lead levels returned to levels seen before the water switch took place,” the report stated.
During the time that the city relied on water from the Flint River, kids younger than six had a 46 percent higher chance of testing at or above the CDC’s level of concern (which is at or above five micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood).
Which is why some Democrats want to hold Snyder accountable.
“While it is important for us to hold all bad actors within the state government accountable for their action or inaction leading up to the Flint water crisis, we cannot lose sight of who holds ultimate responsibility,” said House Democratic Leader Tim Greimel (D-Auburn Hills). The decision to switch the water systems was made by one single official, who only reported to Gov. Rick Snyder. Attorney General Schuette has said that the governor may have compromised his investigation into the situation, and the governor needs to acknowledge and address his tampering—and the likely motivation behind it. It’s time for the attorney general to hold Gov. Snyder and the top officials working directly beneath him accountable for their role in this crisis.”
U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), a ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, also criticized Snyder for his lack of cooperation. He voiced concern about how effective the inquiry will be because of this:
“These criminal charges are one small step towards bringing to justice those officials who are responsible for poisoning their own communities, and they are a stark reminder of the corrupted model of government that places cost-cutting above the lives of its own citizens,” he said. “I continue to have grave concerns about the governor’s ongoing refusal to cooperate fully with the congressional investigation into this matter, and I believe his actions are compromising the integrity of our inquiry.”
The six employees were charged today because of their arrogance and negligence in the face of the Flint water crisis, Schuette said.
“Some people failed to act, others minimized harm done and arrogantly chose to ignore data, some intentionally altered figures … and covered up significant health risks,” he said.
The horrifying result, Schuette said, “was water was poisoned.”
Liane Shekter Smith, Adam Rosenthal, and Patrick Cook, each from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality were charged, as were Nancy Peeler, Corinne Miller, Robert Scott, from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
Schuette alleges that Peeler requested a report detailing blood level data for children in Flint, but that report was subsequently buried. Next, Peeler and Scott prepared a “bogus” report regarding blood lead levels and sent it to Miller, who told others not to take action, Schuette said. Miller is no longer at the Department of Health and Human Services, but Peeler and Scott are still employed, he added.
These actions put Flint’s children in the “cross-hairs of drinking poison.”
That’s not all that happened, according to the Attorney General.
Shekter Smith supervised Rosenthal and Cook at MDEQ. Reports were issued, saying the Flint water plant was out of compliance, but they were ignored, Schuette alleges, with Shekter Smith deliberately misleading officials. And Rosenthal and Cook were supposed to ensure Flint’s drinking water was safe, but “they failed” and mislead health officials.
MDEQ fired Shekter Smith, but her attorney, Brian Morley said he was shocked when investigators called him and said she would be charged.
“I’m really surprised to see criminal charges,” he said. “I don’t see how this gets to criminal conduct. Lawsuits, I can understand.
But, he added, he would “be very surprised if it ever turns out that Ms. Shekter Smith did anything wrong.”
During the conference, Schuette was asked about the data coverup, and said he “can’t always ascertain the motives, but I’m going to make sure they’re held accountable.”
In April 2014, a state-appointed emergency financial manager was running the city when it began using the Flint River to provide drinking water. Prior to this, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department supplied Flint’s drinking water for nearly 50 years.
The switch was an effort to save money, but instead it created a devastating public health crisis that’s still ongoing after more than two years.
What’s even more tragic is that switching to the river water is believed connected to an outbreak of Legionnaire’s Disease which is blamed for at least 12 deaths.
Schuette announced felony charges in April against two MDEQ officials and one official for the City of Flint. At that time, he also said more criminal charges were pending.
It remains to be seen whether Snyder will face charges, but he and Schuette have a rather testy relationship and the two men have engaged in volatile disputes stemming from turning over documents and a lack of communication. And their disputes go well beyond Flint’s water crisis. Right now they are duking it out over number of issues, including a federal directive that affects transgender students.
But perhaps Dan Farough, spokesperson for Common Cause Michigan, puts things in the correct perspective:
“All those responsible for the poisoning of Flint’s drinking water need to be held accountable, but it is striking that the person who bears ultimate responsibility—Governor Snyder—continues to be shielded from scrutiny in this investigation. It was the Governor’s emergency manager law that kept Flint tied to a poisoned drinking water source and now taxpayer money is wrongfully being used to pay for Snyder’s criminal defense,” Farough said. “It’s long past time the attorney general turned his attention to the governor and other powerful players in his administration who are ultimately responsible for what happened to Flint’s drinking water.”
This is what’s really happening: Flint’s children are being punished for a crime they didn’t commit, and those who are responsible may wind up not being punished.
And that is really a crime.
You can watch Friday’s press conference in the video below.
Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images