Cries for Gov. Snyder’s head appear to be based on nebulous factoids

Ex-emergency manager says he’s not to blame for Flint River water switch

Ron Fonger | rfonger1@mlive.comBy Ron Fonger |  – on October 13, 2015 at 3:00 PM, updated October 27, 2015 at 1:54 PM
(Note: We recommend using Wikipedia for updated information on this disaster.)
FLINT, MI — Former emergency manager Darnell Earley says he’s not to blame for the decision to use the Flint River as the city’s source of drinking water.

Earley, who served as Flint’s emergency manager from September 2013 until January 2015, said in an email to The Flint Journal-MLive on Tuesday, Oct. 13, that the water source decision was made months before he was appointed to run the city by Gov. Rick Snyder.

The Michigan Democratic Party called Tuesday on Snyder to fire Earley from his current position as emergency manager of Detroit Public Schools based on his position in charge in Flint when the switch in water source was made.

Earley said he had no reason at the time to second-guess what appeared to have been a consensus decision.

“The decision to separate from (the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department) and go with the Karegnondi Water Authority, including the decision to pump Flint River water in the interim, were both a part of a long-term plan that was approved by Flint’s mayor, and confirmed by a City Council vote of 7-1 in March of 2013 — a full seven months before I began my term as emergency manager,” Earley’s email says.

Although the Flint City Council voted in March 2013 in support of moving to the KWA pipeline — a new pipeline that would serve the region with Lake Huron water — there is no record that the council voted to use the Flint River as a short-term drinking water source.

Earley, who toasted the switch to the river with city leaders in a ceremony in April 2014, said it was his “responsibility to implement the previously accepted and approved plan” since the city’s contract with the Detroit water system expired during his term as emergency manager.

“It did not fall to me to second guess or to invalidate the actions that were taken prior to my appointment,” his statement says.

The state Democrats said in a news release that Earley was in charge of Flint “when the decision was made to switch the city to unsafe drinking water.”

While Earley oversaw the switch, the decision to switch was signed by Flint’s previous state-appointed emergency manager, Ed Kurtz.

Sara Wurfel, a spokeswoman for Snyder, said in a statement Tuesday, Oct. 13, the decision to use the Flint River “was pushed or supported by the city and community” and said the city had no choice but to find another source of water after the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department terminated Flint’s contract to continue purchasing water under the terms of its expired contract.

“We also know Darnell cares deeply about the kids and communities he serves,” Wurfel’s email said. “We’re focused on solving this challenging infrastructure issue, moving forward quickly and doing everything we can to ensure Flint has safe drinking water. …”

The Democrats’ statement said in part, “If poisoning children wasn’t bad enough, after Earley failed the citizens of Flint, the governor inexplicably rewarded him with another appointment — emergency manager for Detroit Public Schools — where he is now responsible for the education of nearly 50,000 students.”

Flint Mayor Dayne Walling said Tuesday that the vote to become a partner in the KWA, a new regional water authority, should not be confused with a vote to use the Flint River as a temporary source of drinking water — a vote that never happened.

In contrast to using the river, the city also could have negotiated a short-term contract to continue buying water from DWSD, for example.

“No resolution brought before myself or the City Council by any emergency manager (made) the Flint River the temporary source,” Walling said.

Kurtz signed an order March 29, 2013, for Flint to eventually purchase water from the KWA pipeline after it was finished, but that order says nothing about the city’s use of the river.

In June 2013, Kurtz signed another order — this one to enter into a contract with Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam Inc. for professional engineering services to put the Flint water treatment plant into operation “using the Flint River as a primary drinking water source for approximately two years and then converting to KWA delivered lake water when available. …”

In September 2013, a new emergency manager — Michael Brown — also approved an order for a contract among Flint, Genesee County and the KWA.

Flint began using the Flint River in late April 2014.

Last week, after warnings from researchers and doctors of elevated lead levels in drinking water and the blood of children since the switch, Snyder announced a plan to finance the purchase of nine months of water from the Detroit water system for Flint.

The city remains a partner in the KWA pipeline plan and expects to use water from that pipeline, which is under construction and expected to serve the region with water from Lake Huron after it is completed in 2016.

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