More on Flint

Rep. John Conyers, Jr., a Detroit Democrat, has recently written on the Flint water crisis in The Nation (February 17, 2016). The U.S. congressman for Michigan’s 13th District and ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, Conyers makes a point relevant to my post of February 8 regarding the Flint emergency manager law and its doleful consequences for people of the city. He notes that the Snyder administration had plenty of warning signs that Flint water was undrinkable and dangerous to local residents, and he points out the anti-democratic nature of rule by emergency managers in Flint, Benton Harbor, and Detroit. Too, he stresses that Flint will not be an isolated incident unless swift political action is taken. I excerpt below the last paragraphs of the piece.

“Governor Snyder and the Republicans in Lansing responded to all of these warning signs by doubling down on the flawed [emergency manager] law. Instead of listening to the voters and their elected representatives, independent experts, and watchdogs, they passed a substitute bill during a hastily called lame-duck session that retained many of its predecessor’s deficiencies. Even worse, the legislature added an appropriations rider, thereby preventing the citizens of Michigan from being able to overturn the new law. The same failed EMs [Emergency Managers] that had been in place earlier returned to work or were recycled to other jurisdictions. For example, Darnell Earley, who presided over the Flint water debacle, was later appointed to run the Detroit public-school system, where he ignored health hazards that endanger our teachers, students, and parents.

The sad part is that there are more sensible alternatives than the heavy-handed, top-down approach to which Governor Snyder clings. There are numerous cases in which more effective legal alternatives have been used to restore fiscal stability while remaining true to the principles of representative government through the use of financial-control boards and similar supportive fiscal devices. Such methods have been used in New York City (1975), Cleveland (1978), Philadelphia (1991), Bridgeport, Connecticut (1991), the District of Columbia (1995), and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (2011), among other cities.

But after we’ve seen cities starved of desperately needed revenues; and citizens denied the right to elect their own leaders; and short-sighted, mindless budget cuts and privatization schemes; and failed EMs recycled into new jobs; and a steady drumbeat of warnings—from the courts, elected officials, independent watchdogs, and the voters themselves—ignored, the real question isn’t how the disasters in Flint and the Detroit public schools could have happened, but how many other state-made catastrophes are looming.

We can’t undo the damage already done by the lead-poisoned water in Flint, or fix the harm already caused by the deplorable conditions in Detroit’s public schools. But we can make sure that the unaccountable emergency managers responsible for these debacles—and the legal system that empowered them—are not permitted to inflict further harm on our citizens.”