Let Flint Get Its Mojo Back

I’m a Michigan boy. That alone endows me with two solid traits. I’m hearty. That comes from surviving tundra-like winters that never show up later than November first and are often content to laze around until early May. Snowdrifts to the second floor and ice cycles that look like zombie spears–Pshaw!

The other is loyalty. Need I say more than I’ve been gone from the mitten state for nearly 50 years and I’m still a Lions fan? The Lions are one of three NFL teams that have never been in a Super Bowl. We had great years in the 50s and early 60s, but since 1967 when the first was staged, not so much.

The loyalty part is what has my dander astir. The fine city of Flint has been hijacked, abased, and criminally mistreated for 12 years.

The crux of the problem is that Flint, like many once thriving, blue-collar cities that relied on industry (cars) to support a middle class, have fallen on the hardest of times due to a perfect storm. The auto industry was steadily moving toward greater technology. The use of computers and robots on production lines eliminated many of the solid union jobs that supported families in the post World War II era. The financial crisis in 2008 cemented the fate of an already troubled American industry. Many factories closed.

The auto companies are back thanks to President Obama’s financial rescue in 2010, but the automation is growing. Even though the cars are rolling out the door in record numbers, the jobs will never return.

Flint is a city in a state of flux and needs help.

The kind of help they got was akin to Sylvester coming to save Tweety Bird.

Flint is not alone as a Michigan city in jeopardy due to loss of good working jobs. There are nine cities and three school districts that have been taken over by an emergency manager. The governor appoints a manager, making the city a ward of the state. The governor acts as quasi-mayor and the emergency manager serves as his Sheriff of Nottingham. All city officials are relived of their duties and the people, in effect, have no local, elected representation. That must be contrary to some constitution somewhere.

The mission of the emergency manager is to make the governor happy and the governor is only happy when money is saved. No one seems to care how that saving is done. All rules are defenestrated along with the city leaders.

To make matters worse, there isn’t enough opposition politics in Michigan to stage any sort of legislative protest. Governor Rick Snyder is a Republican. The bicameral legislature has a more than two-to-one Republican Senate (27-11) and a slightly better ratio of 61 R’s to 46 D’s in the House. So, when a manager is appointed, and the governor gives the word, budget becomes priority and precious little can be done to represent the marooned citizens.

Adding to Michigan’s woes is the disturbing habit the solid Republican legislature has adopted of validating nearly every new law immediately. According to the Michigan Constitution, new laws take effect 60 days after the end of each legislative session. The exception is that with a two-thirds vote, the legislature can enable new laws immediately. There have been a rash of votes enacting laws just as they come off a floor vote with no waiting period. These are all voice votes. I understand nearly unanimous votes being taken by voice, but it is a tad difficult to tell, if 61 vote “Yay” and 46 vote “Nay”, if the 36-vote threshold has been met. Some tapes of these voice votes sound pretty iffy, but the House Majority Leader merrily validates each vote, and, so it goes. Proving once again that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts, absolutely.

I’m sure many of you know the rest of the story. Flint has been a ward of the state and the people without elected city representation since 2004. During that time they have had six emergency managers. Gov. Snyder has been overlord since 2011, hiring/firing five of the six (four different people, one manager served twice).

For the last two years one plan to save money has been to take Flint off the Detroit water system and begin to place it on a more economical system that draws water from Lake Huron. That may have been all well and good, but the state officials couldn’t wait for the new system to be fully developed. They prematurely removed Flint from the safe Detroit system and put them temporarily on a system drawing from the heavily polluted Flint River. This has led to two years of smelly, discolored, poisonous, lead laced water being offered to Flint residents. So much damage has been done to the water system, that now even clean water gets contaminated while running through the pipes.

There are fixes, but they need to start today.

Gov. Snyder and the emergency manager knew of the problem almost immediately. The auto plants complained that the water was rusting the car parts they were making! But, politicians dawdled for 18 months, even while children became sick. In fact, they have done nearly nothing beyond apologizing at this point. Flint citizens are still receiving water they cannot use and still have to pay for it.

When you hear or read a quote from some politician stating, “Fault lies across the board with state and local leaders.” know that is pure spin. There are no local elected leaders in Flint, Michigan. This senseless, unnecessary tragedy lies solely in the lap of Michigan’s governor. All for want of a few saved dollars.

Terry Donnelly is a retired teacher now living in Mesquite. He taught in public schools in Kentucky, Michigan, and Colorado. He was an adjunct faculty member instructing teachers and teacher trainees at Michigan State University, University of Colorado, and Adams State College in Colorado.

Comments

  1. What a tragedy for the citizens of Flint who are trapped in a toxic bubble. Bet this wouldn’t happen in Grosse Point. Thanks for continuing to shine a light on this inequity.

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