Gov. Rick Snyder: ‘I’m kicking myself every day’ for not asking more questions on Flint
Flint — Gov. Rick Snyder on Friday acknowledged he and his staff failed to “connect the dots” on early warnings about Flint’s water quality, saying the state “clearly could have done better” in the run-up to the contamination crisis.
“That’s where I’m kicking myself every day. I wish I would have asked more questions. I wish I wouldn’t have accepted answers,” Snyder told reporters in Flint after signing a $30 million water bill relief package.
Emails the administration voluntarily released Friday show top Snyder aides were concerned about Flint’s water quality as early as October 2014 and suggested helping the city switch back to Detroit’s Lake Huron water source, which happened a year later once elevated lead levels were confirmed.
“They went out and asked tough questions of other people, but they were told the water was safe,” Snyder said about Valerie Brader and Mike Gadola, who served as the governor’s environmental policy adviser and chief legal counsel at the time.
“It didn’t keep on getting escalated enough. That is one of the big problems here. And that’s something we’re making sure doesn’t happen again.”
One legislative Democrat seized on the emails Friday to question how Snyder couldn’t have known about the problems with Flint’s water as his inner circle debated the issue.
“Emails from top aides and staffers, including former Snyder Chief of Staff Dennis Muchmore, indicate that the governor must have known about the concerns last spring,” state Rep. Jeff Irwin, an Ann Arbor Democrat who is one of the House’s most liberal members, said in a statement.
“... The idea that every one of his top staff were actively debating the Flint Water Crisis and that he was unaware is no longer credible.”
As reported Friday by The Detroit News, Brader requested that the governor’s office ask Flint’s emergency manager to return to Detroit’s system on Oct. 14, 2014, three weeks before Snyder’s re-election. Gadola, who grew up in Flint, said the notion that “I would be getting my drinking water from the Flint River is downright scary.”
Other emails from January and March 2015 showed that a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Quality alerted members of Snyder’s communications team to an outbreak of deadly Legionnaires’ disease.
Snyder, who has said he didn’t learn about the outbreak until January 2016, publicly disclosed it at that time.
“There were individuals in the Department of Health and Human Services and the DEQ that had some awareness of that,” Snyder said, referring to the Department of Environmental Quality.
“Again, those are the red flags we’re talking about that should have been caught, and identified better and escalated in some fashion. That didn’t happen.”
Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, was more restrained than other critics over the revelations.
“These latest emails just confirm our worst suspicions — that members of this administration were treating my community like numbers to be shuffled around a balance sheet instead of protecting them,” Ananich said in a statement.
Liberal advocacy group Progress Michigan on Friday joined calls for Snyder to resign over the Flint water crisis revelations in the latest batch of emails from the governor’s office. But the governor reiterated that he is “fired up” over the crisis and committed to fixing it.
“We’re going to make sure we take care of this,” he said.
Snyder said he is working to change the culture in state government to ensure urgency, common sense and problem solving.
He is holding daily staff calls on the Flint water crisis and telling staff that he wants to know what is happening, not what they want him to hear, he said.
Snyder pointed to comments he made in his January State of the State address about “the failures of people who worked for me that let us all down.”
Snyder was in Flint to sign into law a $30 million appropriation that will be used to credit residents for 65 percent of the water portion of their bills from April 2014 through April 2016. Businesses will receive a credit for 20 percent of their bills.
The Republican governor said since the sewer system still works, residents are expected to pay for using it.
But since “the water you’d use to drink, you’d use to cook, you’re using for bathing ... you shouldn’t have to pay for that,” Snyder said.
The credits will apply until the water is deemed by outside experts to be safe again, he said.