Management powers restored to Flint mayor

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — With Flint’s water crisis dominating national headlines, Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration moved Friday to restore much of Flint Mayor Karen Weaver’s management powers.

The state’s Flint receivership transition advisory board granted Weaver the power to hire and fire the city administrator, Flint’s police and fire chiefs and all other city department directors.

The appointment powers had belonged to city administrator Natasha Henderson after former Emergency Manager Jerry Ambrose declared Flint’s financial emergency over last April, ending a four-year reign of state control of the city.

State Treasurer Nick Khouri signed off on the change.

“Mayor Weaver will now have the authority to appoint the city administrator and all department heads,” Gov. Rick Snyder said in a Friday statement. “Today’s action is the next step in transitioning to full, local control in Flint.”

Meanwhile, a state task force investigating Flint’s lead-tainted water urged Snyder on Friday to turn over water testing in Flint to a group of professionals outside state or federal government.

The Flint Water Advisory Task Force said scientists such as Virginia Tech professor Marc Edwards — whose research exposed dangerous levels of toxic lead metal in Flint’s water — should be part of the third-party group.

The task force said the group of outside experts in water quality should “employ the most rigorous scientific standards” in sampling and testing the water from Flint homes, schools, medical facilities and child care centers.

“All schools and health care facilities must be included in the sampling approach,” the task force wrote in its letter to Snyder.

Ken Sikkema, a co-chairman of the Flint water task force, said given the admitted failings of both the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, an outside organization needs to declare Flint’s water safe for human consumption.

“Government can’t do it by itself because people won’t trust government,” said Sikkema, a former Republican state Senate majority leader. “At the end of the day, you can’t have the EPA or DEQ do all this and say the water isn’t safe to drink and then Marc says ‘I don’t believe this.’”

A task force letter to Snyder dubbed the third-party testing the Flint water safety scientific assessment team. Edwards said Friday he would participate in the effort.

“I would be willing to work with EPA’s A-team or collaborate with Flint residents to repeat the sampling done last August,” Edwards told The Detroit News.

Task force members also recommended the Snyder administration work with the EPA’s experts in detecting lead in water as Flint prepares to take water from a new Lake Huron pipeline still under construction.

The task force letter specifically recommended EPA water expert Miguel del Toral be involved. Del Toral identified potential problems in Flint’s drinking water last February, but critics such as Edwards say his concerns were suppressed by EPA superiors, The Detroit News reported Jan. 12.

The task force also urged the governor to get state, federal and local health agencies to work with hospitals to prevent another spike in Legionnaires’ disease.

The governor’s Flint water task force consists of Sikkema, Michigan Environmental Council President Chris Kolb, Dr. Matthew Davis of the University of Michigan Medical School, Dr. Lawrence Reynolds of Mott Children’s Health Center and municipal finance adviser Eric Rothstein.

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Staff Writer Jim Lynch contributed.