Snyder reviews whether to release Flint water emails

Jonathan Oosting and Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Gov. Rick Snyder said Monday he is reviewing requests that his administration release internal emails about the Flint water crisis even though his office is shielded from public record requests under the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

“I would say we’re fully cooperating with all the formal investigations going on, and that includes emails and everything else,” he said. “We’re going to be open and transparent with all the investigating authorities, and looking at my own emails is something I’m willing to consider.”

The liberal citizens’ lobbying group Common Cause Michigan said it has collected more than 30,000 signatures in an online petition demanding Snyder’s office release all of its records related to Flint’s April 2014 switch to Flint River water that ultimately resulted in lead contamination.

“The bottom line is for something as serious as the children of Flint being poisoned by lead … the people of Flint should have the right to get any documents released,” said Melanie McElroy, executive director of Common Cause Michigan. “The meaning of accountability is you don’t get to choose what you release to the public.”

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Federal agencies and an independent task force are studying what officials in the Snyder administration knew about Flint’s water contamination and when they knew it.

State health officials last week disclosed a spike in deadly Legionnaires’ disease in Genesee County in 2014 and 2015 when Flint was drawing water from the Flint River — an outbreak they say has ended. While independent researchers hypothesized that Flint River water could produce such as spike, state officials said it is unclear if there is a link.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services noticed the spike in the fall of 2014 but did not alert the public while it continued research. The governor was first briefed on the Legionnaires’ outbreak early last week, said outgoing Chief of Staff Dennis Muchmore, and Snyder said Monday he is reviewing the timing of the disclosure.

“There are a lot of issues we’re going through with this whole Flint situation, in terms of the water crisis itself, where I didn’t get information as accurately or timely as I should have,” the governor told The News. “We're looking at all those situations.”

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver urged the governor to release the emails.

“The governor probably should do that, just because one of the issues that we've faced is the transparency issue, the trust factor, and that’s one way he can begin to try to establish that with the people, to try to show them what that said,” Weaver said Monday.

Records about Flint’s water treatment problems and how state officials reacted have surfaced in a series of FOIA requests to the departments of Environmental Quality as well as Health and Human Services.

“If we had been able to access some of this information immediately over the last year, I think some lives and health of these kids could have been helped,” McElroy said.