ACLU of Michigan began investigating the Flint Water Crisis early in 2014, playing a key role in shining a light on the issues residents were facing. Executive Director Kary L. Moss found the experience "incredibly invigorating and rewarding." Max Ortiz, The Detroit News
The Flint Water Crisis might never have become The Flint Water Crisis had Kary Moss not made an unorthodox decision
The Flint Water Crisis might never have become The Flint Water Crisis — at least as we’ve come to know it — had Kary Moss not made an unorthodox decision.
Residents in the beleaguered city were under the direction of an emergency financial manager appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder, and in the spring of 2014, they also found themselves paying exorbitant water bills. Soon after, they began reporting rashes and other skin irritations they believed were linked to their drinking water.
As executive director of the ACLU of Michigan, Moss had familiar tools at her disposal: litigation, lobbying or even a public relations campaign. But for Flint, she opted for journalism, dispatching the ACLU’s in-house investigative reporter Curt Guyette to dig into what the residents were dealing with.
To that point, Guyette had been reporting on Detroit’s bankruptcy, but once the calls from Flint began pouring in, Moss reassigned the veteran journalist.
“And Curt just went after it,” Moss said. “He just went up there regularly, attending public hearings, and he began to meet residents and get the story about what happened.”
What happened has now become well-known, but at the time of the ACLU’s entry into the picture, much was still unclear. Following the emergency manager’s decision to utilize the Flint River as a water source, state officials continuously told residents their tap water was safe.
Along with the tireless work of residents, Guyette’s reporting and hustle helped prove that was not the case, and it also pulled back the curtain on state officials’ questionable decision-making throughout the process. What resulted was international attention on the plight of residents who couldn’t control what was happening to them.
“That loss of democracy and what does it mean for people every single day when they are trying to access public services and get the basic necessities of life,” Guyette said, “there was a story there that, fundamentally, we thought needed to be investigated and told.”
The ACLU’s work didn’t stop with reporting. In the midst of the crisis, the civil rights group opened an office in Flint and joined with the Natural Resources Defense Council in a lawsuit to have the city’s lead service lines replaced.
Moss, who misses no opportunity to credit her ACLU team for its work, continues to advocate for what Flint’s most vulnerable residents need.
“We also filed litigation over the quality of the public schools in Flint because most of the children who were exposed to lead have not been tested for whether or not they have any educational disabilities,” said Moss, 58. “So these problems they face are not going to go away — certainly if they’re not diagnosed and certainly if they are not treated.”
Kary L. Moss
Occupation: Executive Director, ACLU of Michigan
Education: Bachelor’s degree, Michigan State University; master’s degree, Columbia University; Juris Doctorate, CUNY Law School at Queen’s College
Family: Husband, Doug Baker; one adult daughter
Why honored: For focusing attention on the Flint water crisis