The Flint water crisis is still taking its toll on the state of Michigan and its citizens. Just days after Flint Mayor Karen Weaver served notice that her city might file a lawsuit against the State of Michigan over the contamination of Flint’s water supply, the State removed the city’s ability to sue them.
The general gist of the situation, without the legal jargon, is this: the City of Flint must get permission to sue the State of Michigan from an advisory board whose members were selected by Governor Rick Snyder — the same man that put the state in this water crisis.
That’s like asking permission from your abuser’s friends to prosecute your abuser for the harm they inflicted on you.
When the State was served notice, the advisory board scrambled to make it so Flint couldn’t sue the State, most likely in order to protect its own people. The board was put together when Flint was in a state of emergency and a state-appointed official was put in charge. Appointed, not elected. These people were chosen by the same governor whose alleged criminal actions caused this crisis, which will impact generations to come because of the lead young people have ingested, and the economic impact as well.
When Weaver and the City of Flint served notice, they were not yet ready to sue. Because state law mandates that once you become aware of the situation, you have 180 days to file, they chose to reserve the right to file paperwork that essentially said, “hey, this may happen.” March 24 was the deadline; they put it through on that date.
State officials responded in anger and vindication.
According to the Detroit Free Press, House Speaker Kevin Cotter, R-Mt. Pleasant, said, “a reckless lawsuit could throw the state budget into disarray and undermine everything we’ve done for the city.” Officials were looking at $165 million in state aid requests for Flint and had already approved $67 million.
The state then manipulated the power of the Receivership Transition Advisory Board, which was created to help transition Flint out of the water crisis. The board was supposedly there to ensure “a smooth transition” to Flint self-government. They helped by reviewing “major financial and policy decisions … to ensure that they maintain fiscal and organizational stability.” Or, at least, that’s how they explain their function to citizens on the City of Flint website.
Governor Snyder’s spokesperson, Anna Heaton, claims that the main purpose of the March 31 change — the one that made it so Flint couldn’t sue — was to benefit the city by more fully involving Mayor Weaver, the City Council and other top city officials — not just the city administrator — in decisions about initiating and settling litigation. Heaton continues to explain, via email, to the Detroit Free Press, “the (advisory board) resolution also clarified that its approval was required before the settlement or initiation of litigation.”
Mayor Weaver has said that she is “disappointed to learn of the timing” of the board’s action “and the overall implications.”
Weaver is not without hope, though. She has said that hopefully barring Flint from suing without state approval “is a sign of their intent to ensure the City of Flint is indemnified for any and all debts and obligations imposed upon the city while under state control,” and “I will continue to do everything within my power to safeguard the city.”