State restores pay for 6 workers suspended over Flint

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — The state of Michigan has restored pay for six employees who remain suspended while they face criminal charges over the Flint water crisis.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette filed an initial round of charges in April, accusing Department of Environmental Quality water regulators Stephen Busch and Michael Prysby of misconduct and other crimes.

Stephen Busch

He levied new charges last month against DEQ analyst Adam Rosenthal and water regulator Patrick Cook, along with Department of Health and Human Services workers Nancy Peeler and Robert Scott, who allegedly “buried” a report on blood lead levels in Flint children.

“Given the uncertainty of the timeliness of the resolution of these cases, combined with the unique nature of this situation,” Health and Humans Services Director Nick Lyon and new DEQ Director Heidi Grether “have chosen” to continue suspensions for those employees but restore pay, the departments said in a joint statement.

“DEQ and MDHHS are providing support for legal counsel and will continue to monitor the legal proceedings and evaluate next steps as appropriate,” according to the statement.

The move wasn’t required by state civil service rules. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s office was not involved in the decision, said spokeswoman Anna Heaton, adding that state Civil Service Commission rules authorize department heads to make such decisions.

“We were told after the fact, after they told the employees,” Heaton said. “The governor trusts (Lyon and Grether) to make good decisions for their departments.”

Busch, who earned $93,876 a year as the Lansing and Jackson district supervisor in the DEQ’s Office of Drinking Water, spent nearly two-and-a-half months on paid suspension this winter and spring until Schuette filed criminal charges against him and Prysby on April 20.

Michael Prysby

Two other former state employees — fired DEQ municipal water chief Liane Shekter Smith and retired DHHS director of epidemiology Corrine Miller — also face charges stemming from Schuette’s probe but no longer work for the state.

Miller retired from the department in April and the DEQ fired Shekter Smith in February for her role in Flint’s drinking water going untreated with corrosion-control chemicals that could have prevented lead from leaching.

Grether, who took over the DEQ this month, told reporters last week that the employees in her department remained suspended without pay. The decision to restore their pay was made Monday, DEQ spokesman Michael Shore said Thursday.

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Twitter: @JonathanOosting

Detroit News Staff Writer Chad Livengood contributed