Snyder appointed task force deflects blame from Governor in Flint water crisis, identifies scapegoat

For those of you who don’t follow the news over the holidays, choosing instead to focus on family and football, there was a significant development in the Flint water saga between Christmas and New Year’s Day…

The task force Govern Sndyer appointed to figure out what happened in Flint that left an alarming number of children suffering from the effects of lead poisoning came back with a preliminary report laying almost all of the blame far away from the Governor’s office, and squarely at the feet of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ). Here’s a clip from the preliminary report issued a few days ago by the task force.

…We believe the primary responsibility for what happened in Flint rests with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ). Although many individuals and entities at state and local levels contributed to creating and prolonging the problem, MDEQ is the government agency that has responsibility to ensure safe drinking water in Michigan. It failed in that responsibility and must be held accountable for that failure…

Throughout 2015, as the public raised concerns and as independent studies and testing were conducted and brought to the attention of MDEQ, the agency’s response was often one of aggressive dismissal, belittlement, and attempts to discredit these efforts and the individuals involved. We find both the tone and substance of many MDEQ public statements to be completely unacceptable…

We are not finished with our work. Other individuals and entities made poor decisions, contributing to and prolonging the contamination of the drinking water supply in Flint. As an example, we are particularly concerned by recent revelations of MDHHS’s apparent early knowledge of, yet silence about, elevated blood lead levels detected among Flint’s children. We also feel it important to further review local government decision processes under emergency management…

And, with that, Dan Wyant, the executive director of the MDEQ, announced that he would be resigning, allowing Snyder to issue a quick, ‘we’re sorry, the next guy we appoint won’t poison your kids, and let’s put this all behind us’ statement.

For what it’s worth, those who seem to be following the story most closely feel as though Wyant was just a scapegoat. The following comes from the Detroit News.

…Critics have put increasing pressure on Snyder’s administration to answer for the Flint water decisions in the last two years. Among the harshest critics is Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech researcher whose water sampling at Flint homes and public record requests have helped keep the spotlight on the state government’s actions.

But Edwards said Wyant should not be the one on the chopping block.

“I’m glad that someone is sorry and someone is being held accountable,” Edwards said. “But Dan Wyant would not be at the top of my list — or even on the list. I feel strongly he was misled by his staff at every point, and he was put in publicly embarrassing situations by the staff’s misinformation.”

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a Hurley Medical Center pediatrician who uncovered lead exposure in city children following the switch, echoed Edwards by saying DEQ staffers’ mistakes led to Flint’s problems.

“(Wyant) wasn’t directly involved,” she said. “There are other people, particularly in (the Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance), that need to take some responsibility. … (Wyant) was a nice person being fed bad information.”…

But a sacrifice had to be made, and Wyant, given his terrible handling of the situation up until this point, made a good candidate… especially given his steadfast refusal to apologize to the people of Flint.

Judging from Wyant’s bumbling, tone-deaf appearance on al Jazeera not too long ago, it’s clear to see why he was chosen to take the fall. What isn’t clear, at least to me, is that we’ll see meaningful investigations into what actually happened, not just at the outset, but over the several months during which officials were telling the people Flint not to worry about the situation, or listen to those researchers coming forward with evidence of contamination in their drinking water. I suppose we’ll have to wait and see, but I’m doubtful that, in this, the least transparent and accountable of all 50 states, we’ll ever see people interviewed on the record and under oath.

Here, if you haven’t seen it, is footage of Wyant speaking with al Jazeera… and refusing to apologize to the people of Flint.

As a friend recently pointed out on Facebook, it wasn’t just Wyant who left his job this holiday season. DEQ spokesperson Brad Wurfel also resigned. Wurfel, as you may recall, is the individual who infamously said, when evidence first began to surface that people were being poisoned by their drinking water, “anyone who is concerned about lead in the drinking water in Flint can relax.” Well, as this friend also pointed out, Wurfel’s wife, Sara, also quietly left her position with the State just as the public outcry for accountability was growing to a fever pitch. Sara Wurfel, if the name doesn’t ring a bell, was the Governor’s press secretary.

I’ve got to think, given the intimate relationship between the DEQ spokesperson and the Governor’s spokesperson, that Snyder had knowledge early of the situation in Flint. Given this, I think it’s safe to assume that, if he didn’t direct the “aggressive dismissal, belittlement, and attempts to discredit” those coming forward with public health warnings himself, he at least had firsthand knowledge of the cover-up.

One hopes that the Democrats in Lansing, and what’s left of our press in this state, don’t just walk away from this story now that Wyant has been offered up as a sacrifice. We need hearings. We need to know who knew about the lead in Flint’s water, when they knew it, and what they did to keep the truth from coming out. Not only do the people of Flint need to see the correct people held accountable, but we also need to make sure that this doesn’t happen again. The culture of unaccountability has to end, and end now.


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  1. Anonymous
    Posted January 4, 2016 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    Are there any Dems pushing for hearings?

  2. Meta
    Posted January 4, 2016 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    He hasn’t called for investigations that I’m aware of, but Congressman Dan Kildee of Michigan’s 5th district would probably be the one to do it. Here’s his December 29 response to Snyder’s apology press release.

    Congressman Dan Kildee (MI-05) issued the following statement today on the ongoing Flint water crisis:

    “Governor Snyder’s apology over the Flint water crisis is appropriate, as are personnel changes announced today at the Department of Environmental Quality. Through this ongoing crisis, the people of Flint did nothing wrong – they are victims of this failure of government. The State of Michigan must not only acknowledge its role in this crisis, but also take responsibility and act right away to make it right.

    “The state can immediately step up to help the children of Flint who have suffered lead exposure. Today, the Governor alluded to ‘more actions’ in the coming days to help Flint residents. These actions by the state should include the establishment of a fund to ensure that kids – who are at the greatest risk for health problems from lead poisoning – receive the developmental, educational and nutritional support they need to help overcome the challenges associated with lead exposure.

    “The State of Michigan can help these kids. If the state helps them now, they will have a better future. But we cannot delay – every day kids in Flint lose without support is a day they cannot get back.”

  3. Paul
    Posted January 4, 2016 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    Snyder just set himself up in his post-gubernatorial ivory tower in the duece to ignore it all privately, instead of publicly.

  4. Meta
    Posted January 5, 2016 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    It’s being reported that the U.S. Attorneys Office is investigating.

    Federal prosecutors are investigating Flint’s water crisis, an official said.

    Gina Balaya, a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Barbara L. McQuade, confirmed Tuesday, Jan. 5, that the agency is working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to investigate the city’s water contamination.

    U.S. Attorneys, whose offices are organized under the Department of Justice, handle criminal prosecutions for the federal government, as well as non-criminal issues, such as civil rights violations.

    Balaya declined to identify specifics of the investigation or any timeline associated with reaching a decision.

    “The administration has not been contacted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office on this matter at this time,” said Snyder spokesman Dave Murray. “Gov. Snyder has appointed an independent panel that is reviewing all state, local and federal actions related to Flint’s water challenges, and we are committed to working with Mayor Karen Weaver and county leaders as we focus on protecting the health of Flint residents and all Michiganders.”

    The announcement of the investigation comes less than a week after the MLive Media Group Editorial Board called for federal prosecutors to look at the case.

    Typically, the U.S. Attorney’s Office does not confirm or deny active investigations, but Balaya said her agency decided to go public with the investigation in response to letters and other inquiries from the public.

    Read more:

3 Trackbacks

  1. […] That’s right… In an effort to increase transparency and accountability, Governor Snyder pledged to cooperate with members of a task force that he appointed… This, by the way, is the same task force, that, just a few days ago, issued their preliminary report, which placed all of the blame for what happened in Flint squarely at the feet of Michigan Department…. […]

  2. […] it would seem that the story isn’t going away, despite the fact that scapegoats within the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality have been offered up and efforts have finally been taken to stop sending untreated water for the Flint River into […]

  3. […] feet of ‘career bureaucrats’ at the MEDQ… Here’s their exact quote: “We believe the primary responsibility for what happened in Flint rests with the Michigan Department …“… Well, a lot has happened since then, and the task force’s their 116-page final […]

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