Snyder: ‘Career bureaucrats’ to blame for Flint crisis

Holly Fournier
The Detroit News

Detroit — Gov. Rick Snyder on Monday laid blame for Flint’s water crisis on “career bureaucrats” with “an absolute lack of common sense.”

The city’s water became lead poisoned after a “handful” of state employees opted against implementing $150 per day in chemicals to protect aging lead pipes from corrosive Flint River water, the governor said.

“They elected to do two six-month studies instead,” Snyder said during remarks at a Pancakes & Politics breakfast at the Detroit Athletic Club, sponsored by the Michigan Chronicle. “And look at the terrible consequences of that.”

But Snyder also accepted a share of the responsibility in the crisis and mentioned his 75-point plan aimed at addressing it.

“It’s a humbling experience; I mean that’s the honest answer,” he said of the aftermath, including being named by Fortune Magazine as one of the world’s 19 most disappointing leaders. “It’s been a very difficult time period. But what I keep in mind is there are people suffering in Flint, and I want to do something about it.”

As for the criticism aimed at him and calls for his resignation, he allows for residents’ anger: “You take your shots; you deserve them. You deserve the people in Flint being angry at you.” “But you don’t back away.”

While he won’t resign, Snyder said he would not run for re-election if allowed under term limit statutes.

“Eight years is plenty, I’ve always said that,” he said, drawing laughter from the audience. “You should get the most you can get out of me and then get some fresh blood.”

The governor pinpointed Sept. 28, 2015, as the date he learned the extent of the problem, after an overnight briefing explicitly claimed Flint was not experiencing a health crisis. Faced with “outside people” saying otherwise, Snyder “pressed” his experts during a conference call, he said. They finally admitted the crisis during that call, according to the governor.

“Talk about getting upset,” Snyder said. “I was upset.”

Snyder addressed other topics at the breakfast Monday, the second session in the 11th year of the program. Facing questions about crises in Flint and Detroit Public Schools, the governor repeatedly directed the conversation toward what he said were positive changes in the state.

Unemployment is below the national average and at its lowest in 15 years, Snyder said. Personal income is growing and hundreds of thousands of private-sector jobs have been added to the economy.

“We are the comeback state,” he said.

A full-capacity room at the athletic club participated through audience questions and polls with results displayed in real-time.

The first poll ranked Snyder’s priorities going forward. Using their phones to text their responses, more than half the audience chose education for the top spot, followed by infrastructure and jobs.

“I expected more balance,” Snyder said. “But I understand education being No. 1 because that’s our kids. And I would agree with that.”

Snyder said the state must focus on education throughout the state, not just within struggling Detroit Public Schools. He highlighted job-counseling programs before pivoting back to the Detroit district and its transition from emergency management.

“I want this to be the last emergency manager,” Snyder said of DPS. “There is a better answer.”

The governor said officials must look at long-term solutions instead of “Band-Aids” to patch up the struggling district.

“This is not about adults, this is about the children,” he said. “How do we get them on the plan to have greater success opportunities?”

One avenue is a bipartisan bill making its way through the state Legislature, Snyder said.

“It’s in the House now. Let’s get something through the House that I can sign,” he said. “Let’s turn (the district) around.”

As the event wrapped up, organizers revisited the water crisis with a second poll, asking the audience if Snyder was “doing enough, fast enough” for Flint. The results were split.

“The point is there’s more to be done,” Snyder said. “We’re getting stuff done now and we’re going to keep getting stuff done.”

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