Snyder hires two PR firms amid Flint crisis

Jonathan Oosting Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Gov. Rick Snyder has hired two public relations firms to help his office deal with the Flint water contamination crisis.

Mercury Public Affairs of Washington, D.C., and Bill Nowling of Finn Partners, a New York firm with offices in Detroit, are working for the governor, Chief of Staff Jarrod Agen confirmed Friday.

“Because of the extreme interest from both statewide and national media, we’ve enlisted support from both Bill Nowling as well as Mercury,” Agen said in a statement.

“This helps our staff stay focused on helping the people of Flint. State funds are not being used.”

Both firms have ties to the governor’s office. Agen’s wife has worked for Mercury, which bills itself as “a high-stakes public strategy firm.” Nowling, now a senior partner at Finn, served as a spokesman for Snyder’s 2010 campaign and ran press for former Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr.

Nowling said he is being paid from a private fund.

“We’re helping coordinate the state response to the crisis in Flint,” said Nowling, who was present at Tuesday night’s State of the State address, where Snyder apologized to Flint residents and outlined a series of actions to address the water crisis.

The website for Snyder’s Moving Michigan Forward 501(c)4 fund has been updated to include a “taking action on Flint” logo and a donation form. Agen did not immediately respond when asked if the tax-exempt nonprofit was paying for the public relations firms, and one-time chairman Bill Martin told The Detroit News he has moved out of state and is no longer associated.

The fund, initially created to replace the governor’s controversial NERD fund, “is helping to ensure information, resources and free clean water is distributed to the people of Flint,” according to the website. “...Working together we can ensure the people of Flint have all the resources they need.”

News of Snyder’s public relations hire, first reported by MSNBC, did not go over well with critics.

“Gov. Snyder, the #FlintWaterCrisis is an ongoing public health emergency, not a public relations problem,” U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, wrote on Twitter.

Snyder has faced intense media scrutiny in recent weeks as state and national media publications examine the Flint water crisis and the role his administration played.

He appeared Friday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” where he continued to lay blame at the feet of state Department of Environmental Quality employees for failing to require Flint to add corrosion control chemicals to its river water that could have prevented lead from leaching into the drinking water supply.