Calley email dismissed lawmaker’s Flint River claims

Chad Livengood, and Jonathan Oosting

Lansing — Lt. Gov. Brian Calley and other top officials in Gov. Rick Snyder’s office were dismissive in early January of a Democratic Flint lawmaker’s claim that state-appointed emergency managers tapped the Flint River as a temporary water source “unbeknownst to the city council.”

When state Rep. Sheldon Neeley said Snyder’s emergency managers were responsible for the city’s lead-contaminated water, it set off a series of Jan. 3 emails within the governor’s office that criticized Neeley two days before Snyder declared a state of emergency in Genesee County.

“Most state reps in the minority party spend 6 years in pure irrelevance, so this is just his way of mattering,” Calley wrote in an email. “He is not productive and he is not going to be productive. The issue is worth more to him in the media than it ever could be as a problem solver.”

Calley’s email was contained among thousands of pages of emails Snyder’s office has voluntarily released since late January.

The email shows Calley and Snyder aides viewed Neeley’s claims about the role of emergency managers in the city’s water switch as a politicization of the events given his knowledge of what actually transpired.

As a city councilman in 2013, Neeley expressed interest in using Flint River water to supplement the city’s future purchase of water from the new Karegnondi Water Authority.

“At some point in time emergency managers, unbeknownst to the city council, made a decision that they would start the process and we’re going to use the Flint River water as the primary source of water,” Neeley said at a Jan. 3 church service in Flint.

Neeley viewed Calley’s comments as “disrespectful” and said the email illustrates the governor’s office was in denial about Snyder’s emergency managers using Flint River water that wasn’t treated to prevent toxic lead from leaching from aging pipes.

“They’re still denying the fact of having a level of culpability,” Neeley said Thursday. “I think it’s systemic inherently of how they all feel as a collective.”

Governor’s office spokesman Ari Adler said Calley did not intend to disrespect the lawmaker and was commenting from his perspective of serving in a Republican minority for two terms in the Michigan House.

“The lieutenant governor understands that people serving in the minority can sometimes be more or less relevant depending on how they handle things, whether you’re a Republican or Democrat,” Adler said. “There have been plenty of examples of people working across the aisle in both parties and being more relevant and more productive because of that.”

Neeley said Calley recently apologized to him after his constituents found the email in a public database.

In the Jan. 3 email, Calley told Chief of Staff Jarrod Agen the governor’s office should still “engage” Neeley, while working to forge a partnership with Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, who had recently taken office and declared a state of emergency in the city.

“But we need a friend on the ground and at this point, the mayor is our best bet,” Calley wrote. “We should bend over backwards to say yes to her as much as we can and make sure that she is out front taking credit for delivering things from the governor — not the rep or senator who actually hindering progress at this point.”

Relationship grows acrimonious

In early January, Snyder’s office was making a concerted effort to involve Weaver in daily decisions about the crisis in her city. The pair initially appeared at press conferences together, but have not done so at more recent events.

The relationship between the governor’s office and Weaver has become more acrimonious, especially after Flint officials threatened to sue the state for its mistakes in the lead contamination of Flint’s drinking water.

Congressional Democrats have zeroed in on the Snyder-Weaver relations as part of their inquiry into the state’s handling of the Flint water crisis.

The top Democrat on the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee accused Gov. Rick Snyder Thursday of making contradictory testimony before the panel about his administration’s cooperation with Weaver in the city’s crisis.

U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, said in a letter to Snyder that Weaver not being consulted about the governor’s new action plan for fixing the city’s tainted water was evidence of a contradiction to Snyder’s sworn March 17 testimony to the committee.

“Your continued refusal to engage in real consultation with the elected leaders of Flint is bewildering, and it contradicts one of the key lessons of your own task force,” Cummings wrote in a nine-page letter sent Thursday to Snyder.

“As a result, your 75 point plan looks more like a press release than a substantive or collaborative approach, and it fails to address many of the key problems identified by Mayor Weaver and other local officials.”

Snyder said Thursday he stands by his congressional testimony.

“We’re working hard with local officials,” Snyder told reporters after a Lansing speech, pointing to regular meetings of the Flint Interagency Coordinating Committee.

As for why Weaver did not learn about his 75-point plan until the night before, Snyder said “there were opportunities for her to have that information prior to that.” He did not elaborate.

News article prompted email

Calley’s Jan. 3 email was in response to Agen sending a Flint Journal article quoting Neeley’s comments about the role of emergency managers in the city’s water contamination.

“Not productive, let alone not true,” Agen wrote in an email that went to Snyder, Calley, senior aides Richard Baird, Beth Clement, Harvey Hollins, Dick Posthumus, James Redford and communications staff.

Snyder said Thursday he couldn’t immediately recall the email in question.

“There are a lot of emails,” he said. “We need to respect one another, and I respect Rep. Neeley.”

Agen questioned whether the staff should meet with Neeley, whose last name was misspelled “Neely” in the email.

“I would say it may be worth it to bring him in,” wrote Posthumus, the governor’s chief legislative lobbyist. “But he may still continue his attacks.

Posthumus suggested the staff adhere to the governor’s mantra of “relentless positive action,” which Snyder aides refer to simply as RPA.

“Remember, this isn’t just a policy issue but a political one and the Democrats will use this for as long as they can,” Posthumus wrote. “All we can do is use RPA to do the right thing and hope a majority of people will see through the partisan rhetoric.”

The next month, Neeley stepped up his public criticism of Snyder at a Feb. 20 rally in Flint that featured the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

“Our governor is emotionally, spiritually constipated about what’s going on in the city,” Neeley said, according to the Flint Journal. “He needs a real big enema and we’re going to give it to him, right?”