In Flint Hearing, Congressmembers Criticize Michigan's Unique Emergency Manager Law
By Matthew Dolan and Paul Egan
A Democratic congressman from Virginia lashed out at Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder for the role of emergency managers in the Flint water crisis that has forced the city of nearly 100,000 into using bottle water for months under an ongoing state of emergency.
Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-VA, a member of the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform committee, pressed Snyder at a Thursday hearing about the actions of several emergency managers. His staff members held up what Connolly said were more than 8,000 pages of orders by emergency managers overseeing the city. But none of those pages addressed the Flint water crisis, according to Connolly.
"This is a failure of a philosophy of governance that you advocate," Connolly told Snyder. The congressman said the emergency managers in Flint sought to save $4 million which brought the city "to its knees."
"The taint and the stain that state government has put on this country in the form of Flint will be a long time being erased," Connolly said. "At some point, the buck stops at your office."
Snyder defended the emergency manager law, which he said had been endorsed by the state Legislature despite a recall by voters.
He did under later questioning by Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, a New Jersey Democrat, say that the emergency management in Flint failed to prevent the city's water crisis.
"In his particular case, with respect to the water issue, that would be a fair conclusion," Snyder said when asked whether the emergency managers in the city fell down on the job in keeping the city safe from lead contamination of the water supply.
Michigan's emergency manager law, already highly controversial because it was rejected by voters in 2012 but reinstated by Republican lawmakers less than six weeks later, has been under fresh scrutiny in light of the lead contamination of Flint's drinking water.
Flint was under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager when it began drawing water from the Flint River as a cost-saving measure in mid-2014. Tests show the corrosive nature of the river water caused lead in the pipes that deliver it to homes and other structures to leach into the drinking water, causing it to exceed federal limits for lead -- which can cause permanent brain damage in children.
There's now universal agreement that the city's switch to Flint River water was a mistake without necessary safeguards, such as adding anti-corrosion materials to the water before it was pumped to homes through the lead pipes, to help prevent leaching.
But there's no consensus about whether the bad choice was one that could have been made by elected leaders in any cash-strapped city, or whether the Flint debacle is an indictment of Public Act 436, which Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law in December 2012, just weeks after voters rejected its earlier incarnation, Public Act 4 of 2011.
Snyder and other proponents said the revamped law gave financially distressed cities more options, control and financial support. Critics, including the Stand up for Democracy group that worked to repeal the earlier law, has said it was an equally onerous example of state overreach.
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