Flint, Mich. residents are finally seeing some justice come from the city’s lead water crisis. Last month, the state attorney general announced felony charges against four ex-city emergency officials. Those charges stem from their devastating decision to switch water sources from a safe source to a cheap but knowingly hazardous one.
Bill Schutte, Michigan’s attorney general stated that it was “a fixation on finances and balance sheets” driving the ill-fated decision. A calculated decision that led to lead poisoning in Flint-area children and ultimately 12 deaths from Legionnaires’ disease.
“All too prevalent in this Flint water investigation was a priority on balance sheets and finance rather than the health and safety of the citizens of Flint,” he said in a statement.
The felony charges include conspiracy to commit false pretenses, false pretenses, misconduct in office, and the willful neglect of duty. The recipients are top ex-city officials Darnell Earley, Gerald Ambrose, Howard Croft, and Daughtery Johnson. City activists championed the announcement, having feared only lower level employees would get the blame.
But some residents say it’s still not enough. They claim fault also goes to current and former state governors. Those governors appointed emergency-gap officials like Earley and Ambrose for their own cost-saving measures. Their appointments draw ire as alleged disenfranchisement prevents majority Democratic cities from having a voting voice in the rural-based and Republican-controlled capital seats. Thus the state government appears to favor conservative finance policies over public health.
Flint Mayor Karen Weaver was one such leader calling for charges and changes higher-up on the political ladder. She points to the Flint water crisis as an example of this critical flaw in state-ordered city oversight. “That’s what was missing when we had an emergency manager… Our voice was taken.”
The Cause of the Flint Water Crisis
The felony charges against the four officials begin with a false story made to secure an unusual bond deal. Officials needed the money so as to sign Flint in as part of a regional water pipeline plan. However, to get it, the defendants claimed use of the emergency money for a retention pond cleanup when it really got diverted to pay for the pipeline project.
As a part of that project, the defendants also agreed to temporarily switch to Flint River water despite knowing the city’s treatment plant was not equipped to handle the increased contaminants. This resulted in being unable to prevent materials corroding and leaching lead into Flint’s water delivery system. Even when Flint residents complained of weird water quality and family sickness shortly after this switch, those same officials ignored the complaints.
Ambrose faces related obstruction charges for impeding the local health department’s efforts to timely investigate water complaints and the fatal Legionnaires’ disease outbreak.
If convicted of the all felony charges, Early and Ambrose face up to 46 years in prison, and the other two officials face as much as 40 years.