Servold: Wrong place, time for Snyder to sign bill

Maria Servold

Slowly but surely, Gov. Rick Snyder is working toward solving the Flint water crisis.

There’s a long way to go, but he took a big step last week when he signed a $28 million spending bill that will help Flint pay for bottled water and medical tests for children, among other things.

The bill was passed unanimously by both the Michigan House of Representatives and the Senate.

I got to witness Snyder signing the bill firsthand at the annual conference of the Michigan Press Association in Grand Rapids, where I happened to be with a handful of student editors from The Collegian, Hillsdale College’s award-winning student newspaper.

The governor took some time to walk around the ballroom at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, where the conference took place, to meet students and members of the press. My students enjoyed this opportunity, and it was good to see Snyder take questions about the Flint crisis from a huge room full of professional and student reporters.

When he signed the Flint bill after a short speech and question-and-answer session, my students were excited to be able to snap a photo for the Collegian’s website and print issue this week, and I was glad for them.

But as most of the convention attendees and students continued to tuck into their lunches while Snyder signed the bill surround by several dozen members of the Michigan Legislature, I thought: Shouldn’t he be doing this in Flint?

Many Michiganians are unhappy with Snyder’s handling of the Flint water crisis. His comments during the State of the State address in January were emotional and pointed — a step toward healing the brokenness between the state and the people of Flint.

But Snyder should be taking any chance he gets to work on that healing, and signing a bill to give Flint $28 million was a big one.

He missed it.

Imagine the impact the bill would have had, morale-wise, if the governor had signed it at a bottled water distribution point in Flint, or at a meeting of the Flint City Council, or at a Flint school.

The mothers, fathers and children who are actually suffering from this crisis are the ones who should have seen the state’s gesture firsthand — not college students and members of the press at a convention in a cushy hotel in Grand Rapids.

A Feb. 2 guest column by communications professor Matthew Seeger, in this newspaper, “Separating effective communication from spin,” noted Snyder has hired a team of public relations professionals to help him manage communication about the crisis.

This team should have thought about how to make the most impact with the bill’s signing and, clearly, that would have meant going to Flint.

It’s traditional for the governor to address the Michigan Press Association at its convention each year, and I always look forward to my students getting a chance to meet him and ask him questions. But this year, I think we all would have forgiven him if he’d have skipped the Amway Grand in favor of Flint City Hall.

Maria Servold is the assistant director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College.