By Paul Egan
The costs of the Flint drinking water crisis continued to climb Tuesday as Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder asked the State Administrative Board to approve contracts worth up to $1.2 million to cover his outside legal bills and Attorney General Bill Schuette asked for approval of a $1.5 million contract with attorney Todd Flood to cover the cost of his investigation into the public health disaster.
Snyder's request Tuesday increases the estimated cost of his outside legal fees from just under $500,000 to more than double that, with up to $400,000 going to civil attorney Eugene Driker and up to $800,000 going to Brian Lennon, a criminal defense attorney who Snyder officials say has been hired in an investigative role to research and process emails and other records.
Also Tuesday, Schuette asked the board to approve a contract of up to $1.5 million with Royal Oak attorney Todd Flood, the lawyer Schuette tapped to head up his investigation into whether any state laws were violated in the lead contamination of Flint drinking water, which has led to state and federal emergency declarations and instructions to Flint residents not to drink tap water without using a lead filter.
The contracts were approved Tuesday by the finance and claims committee and now go to the full State Administrative Board on March 15. The board, which has representatives from the governor's office, the attorney general's office, the lieutenant governor, the secretary of state, the treasurer, the superintendent of public instruction, and the director of the transportation department, is generally an administrative rubber stamp for state contracts worth $250,000 or more.
Snyder's bills are controversial because they are in addition to the costs of attorneys from Schuette's office who are defending him in a raft of civil suits related to the Flint crisis. Schuette's selection of Todd to lead his Flint water investigation has also been criticized by Common Cause in Michigan and Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Brandon Dillon because Todd has been a campaign donor to both Snyder and Schuette.
"It's beyond outrageous that Snyder wants to take $1.2 million from Michigan taxpayers to pay for defense attorneys over his involvement in the poisoning of Flint's water," said Dillon. "That money should go toward replacing lead pipes and getting safe drinking water to Flint families, not for Snyder's defense attorneys."
"Instead of conducting a truly independent investigation into the cause of the Flint water crisis, Bill Schuette is funneling $1.5 million in taxpayer dollars to Todd Flood, who has contributed thousands of dollars to Bill Schuette, and thousands more to Rick Snyder _ the man he is supposed to be investigating," said Dillon. "The people of Flint deserve better."
Snyder spokesman Ari Adler said the legal contracts are being increased "based on the anticipated billing for work already completed and the workload as we look ahead at the processing of all emails and documents related to the Flint water crisis.
"Between the executive office and the state departments, we have an enormous amount of data to go through to ensure we are releasing everything that is relevant to the Flint water crisis but also protecting personal and other information that is never released, even under FOIA," he said.
"The Governor's Office and the state departments are processing this data as part of numerous requests but are unable to complete the work needed in a timely manner without outside assistance. This work is being done to ensure that state government is being transparent, so the use of state dollars is appropriate."
Schuette spokeswoman Andrea Bitely said the $1.5 million contract with Todd's law firm is intended to cover "the costs of the entire team of prosecutors and investigators," including former Detroit FBI Director Andrew Arena, "and anticipates reasonable expenses for the team going forward."
"The attorney general is running an independent, broad-based investigation team that will leave no stone unturned,"Bitely said. "That is what the citizens of Flint, and Michigan as a whole, want and deserve.
"With a crisis of this magnitude making families' daily lives a struggle and shaking the trust of citizens in their government, we will not do a half-baked investigation on the cheap," she said. "We will get answers."
Driker, of Barris, Sott, Denn and Driker in Detroit, specializes in complex business litigation and alternative dispute resolution and has represented many of Michigan's largest corporations, including DTE Energy, Dow Chemical, Ford and GM, according to the firm's website. He has also represented the state of Michigan and served as a mediator in the Detroit bankruptcy case.
Lennon, of Warner, Norcross & Judd in Grand Rapids, specializes in criminal defense law, especially health care fraud and other white-collar and drug offenses, corporate internal investigations and compliance issues, according to the firm's website. He is a former federal prosecutor in Virginia and in the western district of Michigan.
Flint's drinking water became contaminated with lead in April 2014 while the city was under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager.
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has acknowledged it failed to require the addition of needed corrosion control chemicals to the water. As a result, lead leached from pipes, joints and fixtures into an unknown number of Flint households, causing a spike in the levels of toxic lead in an unknown number of Flint children.
Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, also criticized Snyder's legal bills in a statement issued Tuesday.
"Paying more for high-priced lawyers than we are for school nurses or fully refunding victims is another kick in the teeth to taxpayers and my community," Ananich said. "Our priority should be sending every resource we can to removing pipes and protecting kids, not covering legal fees."
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