Snyder lawyer called Flint water ‘scary’ before lead crisis
Gov. Rick Snyder's newest release of state emails and documents related to Flint's water disaster indicates that his aides' reluctance to brief him, his own mismanagement -- or both -- led to delays in addressing the public health threat.
A full year before his administration helped the city reconnect to Lake Huron water after lead contamination was exposed, two top advisers were already advocating the move, citing E. coli and a General Motors plant's rusting parts. Snyder's chief legal counsel even told the chief of staff that using Flint River water was "downright scary."
Yet the Republican governor insists the warnings -- weeks before his re-election -- were never given directly to him, and state officials decided then that it would cost too much to rejoin Detroit's system.
With documents revealing such discussions in Snyder's inner circle, even the governor's allies acknowledge how badly the issue seems to have been handled.
"The right people were raising the right issues, they were sounding the alarms," said John Truscott, a public relations strategist who was the spokesman for former GOP Gov. John Engler. "Why wasn't it followed through on?"
Snyder has apologized but refused to resign over his administration's role in the water crisis. The tainted water has left children with elevated lead levels, which have been linked to learning disabilities and other problems. He has also reassigned top spokespeople and fired regulators that a task force concluded were responsible for not deploying corrosion controls after the April 2014 switch, which let lead leach from aging pipes into some homes.
"We didn't connect all the dots that I wish we would have," Snyder said Friday in Flint, where he signed into law $30 million in state aid to partially cover the water bills of residents and businesses going back about two years. "That's where I'm kicking myself every day."
The newly released emails detail how Snyder failed to get a handle on the crisis over the course of a year:
-- In October 2014, senior policy adviser and deputy legal counsel Valerie Brader emailed other top Snyder officials asking to request that Flint's state-appointed emergency manger return to buying water from Detroit's water system. She alluded to problems with a carcinogenic disinfectant byproduct, known as trihalomethane -- 2 1/2 months before the public was notified.
-- Chief legal counsel Mike Gadola quickly responded to the email to concur, telling chief of staff Dennis Muchmore and others that using Flint River water was "downright scary" and noting that his mother lived in Flint. "Nice to know she's drinking water with elevated chlorine levels and fecal coliform," he said. "I agree with Valerie. They should try to get back on the Detroit system as a stopgap ASAP before this thing gets too far out of control."
Muchmore, who now works for a law firm, told the Detroit Free Press that he and the others had discussed their concerns with the governor. "We shared them," he said.
-- Snyder's office became aware of a spike in Genesee County Legionnaires' cases in January 2015, two months earlier than previously thought, and a full year before he disclosed two waves of the deadly outbreak to the public.
-- In January 2015, Ari Adler, who had just joined Snyder's office, emailed communications director Jarrod Agen reacting to a Free Press story headlined "Who wants to drink Flint's water?"
"This is a public relations crisis -- because of a real or perceived problem is irrelevant -- waiting to explode nationally. If Flint had been hit with a natural disaster that affected its water system, the state would be stepping in to provide bottled water and other assistance. What can we do given the current circumstances?"
Agen is now Snyder's chief of staff.
"I wish I would have asked more questions. I wish I wouldn't have accepted answers," Snyder said Friday. "So, that's the whole point of this thing is I'm not going to have that happen again."
Democrats, however, accused the governor of prioritizing cost-cutting measures over people's health and safety.
"A crime was committed against the children and families of Flint, and the unheeded warnings expressed to this governor, by his own inner circle, are as close to a smoking gun as you can get," state Democratic Party Chairman Brandon Dillon said in a statement.
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