Board recommends returning control to Flint officials

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Flint leaders could be closer to having control over local decisions restored, Mayor Karen Weaver announced Wednesday.

The state-appointed Receivership Transition Advisory Board, which has monitored Flint’s finances since its emergence from state oversight in April 2015, voted to issue an recommendation to transition authority back to the city administration and City Council, the mayor said in a statement.

The board now must make a formal recommendation to state officials to rescind Emergency Order 20, restoring authority to Flint officials for daily operations, according to the release.

“This is another step in the right direction for Flint,” Weaver said. “Our city’s government has been under state control for years, and this is a decision the leaders and citizens of Flint have waited a long time for. ...

“I have always been in favor of home rule. The individuals that the residents elect should be able to make decisions and do the job they were elected to do. And we will continue doing what is in the best interest of the people and the future of Flint.”

While the vote is a step closer to dissolving Flint’s relationship with the transition advisory board, pursuant to Public Act 436, the panel still would have statutory powers and be used to approve budgets and collective bargaining agreements, officials said.

The state Treasurer intends to sign the board’s resolution when it reaches his desk, spokesman Ron Leix said Wednesday, adding: “The RTAB serves at the pleasure of the governor and serves until there is a formal end of receivership and it is dissolved.”

Flint went through emergency management in the 2000s after running several years of deficits and underfunding its pension plan.

Some of the city’s recent emergency managers included Darnell Earley and Gerald Ambrose. Both were among defendants named in a consolidated class-action lawsuit filed last fall against two engineering firms, Flint officials and state officials, including Gov. Rick Snyder and former state Treasurer Andy Dillon, over the city’s lead-contaminated water.

Flint switched from the Detroit-area water system to the Flint River in April 2014, which led to concerns about the quality and smell of the water from residents.

A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report released in October reiterated that the lead-contaminated water crisis was caused in part by the state Department of Environmental Quality’s “failure to properly oversee and manage” the water supply switch. The failure of state regulators to require corrosion control chemicals in the river water resulted in lead leaching from the city’s aging pipes into the water supply.

Lead was later found at high rates in children’s blood. There was also a 2014-15 outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease that sickened 79 people and killed 12.

This week, a 67th District Court judge heard testimony in the preliminary hearing for suspended Department of Environmental Quality water regulators Stephen Busch, Michael Prysby and Patrick Cook as well as Liane Shekter Smith, the fired former head of the state division responsible for overseeing Flint’s water source switch.