Snyder spurns Dem calls to resign

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Gov. Rick Snyder is “fully committed to remaining in office,” his spokesman said Wednesday, despite a call for his resignation from Michigan’s House minority leader over the Flint water crisis.

The govenor is planning on “fixing the problems with the water in Flint and the problems within state government that caused this crisis in the first place,” Ari Adler said in a statement.

“We need to restore safe water to the pipes of Flint, and we need to restore trust in their government to the people of Flint. Finding solutions, fixing problems and moving Flint forward by working together will deliver safe water and real results for the people of Flint now and far into the future.”

House Minority Leader Tim Greimel called Wednesday for Snyder to resign over “actions and inactions” related to the crisis, accusing the executive office of “negligence and indifference.”

The Auburn Hills Democrat made the announcement on the same day that the Michigan Democratic Party said the Snyder administration blocked Flint from returning to the Detroit water system in April 2015 despite concerns with the city’s drinking water.

“Snyder has presided over a culture that lacks accountability and transparency,” Greimel told reporters in his state Capitol office. “Instead, he and his administration have been obsessed with spreadsheet totals and pass-the-buck politics that have put the health of 100,000 people in jeopardy and may have led to the loss of life for nine Michiganders.”

Greimel previously indicated he would urge Snyder to resign if it was proven the Republican governor knew more about the crisis than he originally let on. Citing staff emails released last weekend, Greimel argued Tuesday it is “inconceivable” the governor was unaware of some issues prior to public disclosure.

If he didn’t know, “then he’s the worst manager ever,” Greimel said. “If the state of Michigan were a corporation, and the governor were its CEO, the board of trustees of that corporation would have called on him and forced him to respond long ago.”

Also Wednesday, the Toledo Blade published an editorial calling for Snyder step down.

“For many months, the governor did nothing while his appointees dismissively, and sometimes sneeringly, denied claims the water was contaminated,” the newspaper wrote.

Snyder has resisted calls to resign over the Flint crisis, which he has attributed to errors at all levels of government. He was aware of early concerns about the color, smell and taste of the water following the city’s switch to river water in April 2014 but did not take aggressive action until the state confirmed elevated lead levels in October 2015. The governor maintains that he did not know about an outbreak of deadly Legionnaires’ disease until January of this year.

Adler said it was “unfortunate” that Greimel held “a politically charged press conference” on Wednesday, noting the House minority leader was invited to attend a legislative briefing with administration staff on the Flint water crisis that other lawmakers attended.

Michigan Republican Party Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel was more pointed.

“While Minority Leader Tim Greimel was hosting a politically motivated press conference in his taxpayer-funded office, other state lawmakers were attending a briefing with the governor’s staff, focusing on fixing the issues in Flint.

“Given that the word leader is in his official title, Greimel should step up and actually lead, instead of playing politics. ... Shameless pandering from a state lawmaker in a leadership position is unacceptable and shouldn’t be tolerated.”

The state Democratic party on Tuesday released copies of a $7 million state loan agreement designed to help end the city’s financial emergency. The document, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, includes a provision prohibiting the city of Flint from contracting with the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department without written approval from the state treasurer.

The loan agreement came a little over a month after the Flint City Council voted to switch off river water and return to Detroit’s Lake Huron supply.

The vote was symbolic because Flint was under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager, Jerry Ambrose, who called the decision “incomprehensible” because of an estimated $12 million price tag.

The April 29 loan specifically forbade the city from entering into an agreement with the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department without written approval from the state treasurer. It was signed by Ambrose and Treasurer Nick Khouri.

Snyder declared an end to Flint’s financial emergency the same day as the loan agreement, returning some control of the city to the elected mayor, City Council and an administrator Ambrose appointed.

Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Brandon Dillon accused the Snyder administration of playing “political power games” in Flint, noting top Snyder staffers expressed concerns over the city’s water quality. He called on Khouri to resign.

“In this deal, the Snyder administration used the emergency manager agreement to lock the city of Flint into a poison source, the Flint River, even after alarm bells were going off all over the administration,” Dillon said on a press call.

Khouri issued a statement in response to what he called “inaccurate statements” by Democrats about the loan agreement, which he signed just days after becoming state treasurer.

“At no time did the loan agreement with Flint prohibit the city from returning to the Detroit Water System. It required the city only to notify, and receive State approval, before making such a decision,” the treasurer said.

“As with any emergency loan agreement, there are a number of financial conditions included to ensure that a local unit of government remains on solid financial footing and does not slip back into financial emergency.”

The state did not receive any requests from the state to switch back to Detroit water between April 2015 and October 2015, according to Khouri.

Adler reiterated that the provision was not an outright prohibition and could have been changed with treasurer approval.

“The State Democratic Party’s accusations are wrong,” Adler said. “The provisions in the loan agreement were put in place to ensure the proper oversight of money sent to Flint by taxpayers from across the state, but nothing was prohibited as this latest round of political rhetoric is suggesting.”

Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, hasn’t called for Snyder’s resignation but successfully pushed for legislative hearings on the water crisis. On Wednesday, he continued his sharp criticism of the administration.

“I don’t know how the governor or anyone in his office can sleep at night knowing they forced poisonous water on the families of Flint,” Ananich said in a statement. “And if we find out through these hearings and investigations that they broke the law and tried to cover it up, they should be doing some sleeping behind bars.”