The Center for Michigan is a non-profit news organization that does excellent work, especially with their “truth squad” that operates like the factcheck sites for the state. They debunk the claim from Gov. Rick Snyder and other Republicans that the decision to switch sources for the city’s drinking water was made by Flint officials. In fact, they could not possibly have made that decision.
In his speech, which also touched on the chronology of events, Snyder noted a key development – a Flint City Council vote in March 2013 to switch water service from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, to the Karegnondi Water Authority, a regional water authority that was in the process of building a pipeline from Lake Huron. Snyder told the statewide audience that this action is where “the crisis began.”
The crisis timeline distributed to reporters and now available online states that in June 2013, “City of Flint decides to use the Flint River as a water source,” a phrasing similar to what the governor used in his State of the State speech, (“Flint began to use water from the Flint River as an interim source”) suggesting that the city, not the state, drove the interim decision to use the highly corrosive river water for city residents.
But Flint was under the sole authority of an emergency manager forced on them and appointed by Snyder. The city council had no power at all and could not have made that decision:
Here’s the problem with that: City officials did not make the decision to take water from the Flint River. There was never such a vote by the city council, which really didn’t have the power to make such a decision anyway, because the city was then under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager.The council’s vote in March 2013 was to switch water supply from Detroit to a new pipeline through the Karegnondi Water Authority – but the pipeline wasn’t scheduled to be completed for at least three years. (And even that decision was given final approval not by the council, but by then-state Treasurer Andy Dillon, according to Snyder emails released Wednesday.)
Snyder also said that Detroit, after being informed of the Flint council vote, sent a “letter of termination” of water service. Actually, Detroit sent a letter giving Flint one year on its existing contract, but that didn’t mean Flint couldn’t get water from Detroit after that date. In fact, there was a flurry of negotiations between Detroit and Flint to sign a new contract that would carry Flint through until it could connect to the under-construction pipeline. That new contract was going to cost Flint more money.
This distinction is important to note because merely stating that Flint received a “letter of termination” makes it sound as if a thirsty Flint had no choice but to stick a straw in the Flint River. Flint could have elected then to sign a new contract with the the Detroit water system (indeed, Flint eventually reconnected to Detroit water after the situation in the city became a full-fledged, hair-on-fire crisis). Flint was disconnected from Detroit because it was cheaper to take water from the Flint River until the new pipeline was completed. Here’s a letter from then-emergency manager Darnell Earley saying Flint was choosing to use Flint water instead of Detroit water.
Snyder is lying to avoid responsibility for the decision.