Capitol protesters urge Snyder to resign over Flint

Jonathan Oosting Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Gov. Rick Snyder has “got to go,” protesters chanted Thursday at the Michigan Capitol, calling on the governor to resign over a Flint water contamination crisis that continues to generate national attention.

“When it comes to government, you’ve got to do it right or don’t do it at all,” said R.L. Mitchell, a Flint resident who traveled to Lansing on one of two buses that made the trek.

More than 100 protesters gathered inside and outside the Capitol, leading a series of loud chants in the building’s rotunda as the House and Senate wrapped up their sessions.

Snyder, who has stepped up his efforts in recent weeks, continues to face criticism for an initially slow response to independent reports of elevated lead levels in drinking water after the city began drawing from the Flint River in April 2014.

House Minority Leader Tim Greimel said Thursday that Snyder should resign if he knew about the crisis before he acted to resolve it, but the Auburn Hills Democrat’s spokeswoman said he did so with the caveat that “we need more information on what did he know and, more importantly, when did he know it.”

The governor “acted aggressively as soon as he learned” about the Flint water lead problem on Oct. 1, Snyder spokesman Dave Murray said in response to the protest.

“We understand people are frustrated. The health and safety of Flint residents is a priority, both now and long into the future,” Murray said. “The most immediate challenge is to make sure all Flint residents have access to water, filters and water testing kits.”

Murray noted that members of the Michigan National Guard, activated this week by Snyder, are assisting with door-to-door distribution efforts and said the administration is in contact with federal authorities “on potential pathways to additional resources and assistance.”

Flint Councilman Wantwaz Davis, among Thursday’s Capitol protesters, likened the city’s public health crisis to “genocide” and blamed Snyder for “putting children in a position where they’ve got lead in their blood.”

The city was under control of a state-appointed emergency manager when it switched to Flint River water in spring 2014, he said, and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality failed to add appropriate corrosion controls to the water.

“It’s irreparable. It’s irreversible and will have a long-lasting impact on their lives,” Davis said of the lead exposure.

The Rev. David Bullock of Detroit, who spoke at the rally, argued that Snyder has done too little, too late in Flint.

“This is about water, this is also about emergency management, and this is about a failed governor,” he said.

State officials also announced Wednesday that cases of deadly Legionnaires’ disease spiked dramatically in the Flint area between June 2014 and March 2015, but they said it is unclear whether there is a connection to the contaminated drinking water.

U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, citing the Legionnaires’ cases, wrote to President Barack Obama on Thursday and requested he send to the city experts from federal agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“In addition to previously requested help to deal with the crisis related to lead levels in our water, we need federal help to determine the cause of the Legionnaires’ disease outbreak and what can be done to prevent it from happening in the future,” the Flint Township Democrat said in a statement.

State Rep. Rose Mary Robinson, a Detroit Democrat who is the minority vice chairwoman of the Michigan House Oversight Committee, said Thursday there should be criminal prosecution in the Flint crisis, specifically holding responsible those who triggered the April 2014 switch to the Flint River.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit already is investigating.

“I think it’s a crime by omission,” said Robinson, a former defense attorney, in a statement. “Public officials have a duty to act and protect the public, including the governor.”

When asked about it at a Cobo Center Thursday night event in Detroit, Snyder said he welcomed a probe.

“… People that have the appropriate authorities, I encourage them to investigate, because we want to learn as much as possible from this and make sure it doesn’t happen again,” he said.

First-term U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, said she has asked for a U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform committee hearing on Flint’s contaminated water. Republicans control the panel.

“Congressional oversight is needed to set things right, on behalf of the people of Flint and on behalf of future generations,” Lawrence said in a statement. “Anything less than that would demonstrate gross negligence in providing the services that our constituents need and deserve.”

joosting@detroitnews.com