Snyder: Return control to Flint mayor

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Flint Mayor Karen Weaver needs more power to run her crisis-stricken city, Gov. Rick Snyder said Friday, backing her request to speed up a return to local control after the city emerged from financial management in late April.

Snyder is asking a state Receivership Transition Advisory Board, which continues to monitor Flint finances, to transfer to Weaver executive authority that had been reserved for the city administrator under former Emergency Manager Jerry Ambrose.

“The Flint city charter establishes a mayor-centric form of government,” Snyder said in a statement. "Flint is headed by the mayor who serves as the city’s chief executive and the City Council, serving as the city’s legislative body. The city currently is in receivership, and the city administrator is responsible and accountable for the day-to-day city operations.

“Mayor Weaver has requested that the powers and authority currently vested in the city administrator be transferred to the mayor. I agree with her, and have asked the Receivership Transition Advisory Board to support that resolution.”

Abrose, in a final order he issued on April 25, restricted local officials from revising any of his past decisions until at least one year after the governor ends formal state receivership of the city.

On Tuesday, Weaver told Sirius XM’s “Sandyland with Sandra Bernhard” radio show that she lobbied the Republican governor for the restoration of her powers.

“I was elected by the people, and I told him ‘You need to let me be able to do my job,’” the mayor told Bernhard, according to the show’s transcript.

Flint is still in financial distress and will remain in receivership for the time being, Snyder said Friday, but the state and its transition board “will support Mayor Weaver and her team to navigate the financial challenges ahead.”

The transition board already met this week and is not scheduled to gather again until Feb. 10, but Michigan Treasury Department spokesman Terry Stanton said it is possible that a special meeting could be called before then.

Bloomfield Hills attorney Doug Bernstein, an expert on the state’s emergency manager law and newly appointed member of a state transition board in Pontiac, was not immediately aware of any statutory provision that would prohibit the Flint board from making good on Snyder's request.

While there is no clear precedent for the governor’s push to provide Weaver with more authority while Flint remains under receivership, Bernstein pointed out that the emergency manager law is still less than three years old and designed to be flexible.

“There’s a lot of quirks with the Flint situation, that’s true, but remember that there isn’t going to be any specific playbook that fits every city,” he said. “Every municipality has its own set of circumstances and issues, so the timing of when local control is restored will vary from situation to situation.”

The Flint advisory board, which will remains in place despite the additional power given to Weaver, is expected to ensure the city does not return to bad habits after emerging from emergency status, Bernstein said.

“The main goal of any of the transition boards is really to act as a second set of eyes and make suggestions and to make sure that there’s compliance with what’s necessary for a municipality to exercise really good governing skills,” he said.

Flint residents continue to rely on bottled water to drink, cook and bathe with as a result of the city’s lead-contaminated water crisis that was caused by switching Flint’s water source from spring 2014 to this past October.

Flint’s City Council approved initial plans to move off of Detroit's Lake Huron water supply and join a regional authority that continues to build a new pipeline, but the interim switch to local river water occurred while the city was under control of another emergency manager, Darnell Earley.

Weaver, who pushed for local control on the campaign trail, took office in November after defeating incumbent Mayor Dayne Walling. After meeting with the governor last week, Weaver said it could cost as much as $1.5 billion to replace aging and damaged pipes leeching lead into city water.

“We're doing this together, this is a partnership,” Weaver said after sitting down with Snyder. “We're going to be looking at how we move Flint forward. We want to take care not only the water situation, but just like the governor said, we have other issues we want to work together on.”

Snyder, who had already declared a state of emergency and activated the Michigan National Guard to help with bottled water distribution efforts, on Thursday asked President Barack Obama to declare a federal emergency in Flint and expedite major disaster relief in Genesee County.

The governor's request seeks federal tax dollars to give individuals grants for temporary housing and repairs to their homes and low-cost loans for covering uninsured loss of property. He's also seeking federal aid to help repair public schools and other public facilities with damaged pipelines.

FEMA has received Snyder's request and is reviewing it "as expeditiously as possible," spokesman Rafael Lemaitre said Friday morning on Twitter.