Snyder: Office will release staff emails on Flint water

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder talks about the Flint water crisis and the emails which will soon be released during seesion with The Detroit News Editorial Board and reporters on Monday.

Gov. Rick Snyder said Monday his office will release thousands of pages of emails his staff sent or received related to Flint’s water supply switch and subsequent contamination dating back to 2011.

Snyder said the release of his office’s Flint records would come “relatively soon” after state lawyers remove any documents that would normally be exempt under the Michigan Freedom of Information Act, which doesn’t apply to the governor’s office.

“You’re talking thousands and thousands of emails, so I want to make sure they do it carefully and thoughtfully,” Snyder told The Detroit News Editorial Board.

The Republican governor stopped short of endorsing an expansion of Freedom of Information Act to make his office and the Legislature subject to the same public records law imposed on all other levels of government in the state. Michigan is one of two states that don’t release emails from these branches of government open to public inspection.

“I’m starting with that in terms of this release,” Snyder said. “So I’m not going to get into the broader question at this point in time. … To be blunt, I’m working on making sure we get the information out on the executive office.”

The Snyder administration has posted online several thousand pages of records related to Flint’s 2014 switch to the Flint River water and the state Department of Environmental Quality’s failure to require anti-corrosive chemicals to be added to the water.

The records included documents detailing how state environmental and health officials were aware of a deadly outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in the Flint area during the time period the city was drawing river water that was not publicly disclosed until January.

Flint switched back to Detroit’s water supply in mid-October after state officials confirmed independent studies showing high levels of lead in Flint’s water and the bloodstreams of some residents. Corrosion of Flint’s aging lead water pipes is blamed for causing the toxic metal to leach into the city’s water supply.

Last month, Snyder released 274 pages of his emails related to Flint’s water switch from 2014 and 2015. Snyder said the new release will include all Flint-related emails dating back to 2011 when he took office.

Snyder has faced calls from Democrats and government watchdog groups to release his earlier emails related to Flint’s water switch because the governor’s emergency managers were making decisions in 2013 related to the decision to temporarily use Flint River water while a new pipeline to Lake Huron was being built.

Melanie McElroy, executive director of Common Cause Michigan, said “unfortunately it took a crisis” to spur the governor’s office to release records that have been previously kept secret.

“I think that he’s hearing the outcry for more accountability and transparency,” McElroy said Monday. “Most importantly what we need is support for reform of FOIA to remove the exemption from the executive’s office so we don’t have to play these games.”

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