Column: Flint charges drain taxpayers

Roger Kahn

I have watched the Flint water crisis with dismay and disappointment. I think everyone in Michigan feels a sincere sympathy to the people of Flint for what they have endured. At the same time, the finger-pointing has done nothing to improve the situation.

By way of background, I served 12 years in the Legislature — four years in the House and eight years in the Senate. I understand how politics enters into many state decisions. I have also watched as our politics at the state and national levels has become more irrational and frankly, toxic. I am saddened that good people who have chosen public service are often criticized and derided for doing what they think is right.

I had the pleasure of serving with many hard-working, decent people on both sides of the political aisle. We didn’t always agree, but we didn’t have to be disagreeable. Politics didn’t always degrade into personal attacks and cheap accusations.

The most visible issue I see at the forefront these days is the involuntary manslaughter charges brought by Attorney General Bill Schuette against the former director of the Department of Health and Human Services Nick Lyon. This is a purely political attempt to gain headlines rather than doing what’s right to help the people of Flint.

Over $16 million has already been allocated to cover the costs of the prosecution, and yet not one person charged has even completed the preliminary exam stage, the first step in the prosecutorial process. This situation is dragging out and people are not being provided their appropriate legal recourse, which is truly unfortunate.

I spent my career as a cardiologist, so I have some insight into the charges against Lyon, which I believe are misguided and off-base. The victim in question is Robert Skidmore; he died of congestive heart failure, according to the death certificate. Yet the attorney general and his special prosecutor, Todd Flood, have charged Lyon with a felony over Legionella in Flint.

It is a medical fact that Legionella does not cause congestive heart failure. For the case in question, once Legionella is cured, any impact on medical issues like congestive heart failure is resolved as well. It is my understanding that Skidmore was cured of Legionnaires’ several months before his unfortunate death. In my medical experience, I am unaware of a case where treated and cured Legionella was connected to death as a result of congestive heart failure. That is an illogical medical conclusion.

Legionella is a germ transmitted through airborne water particles. It comes from water systems that have been improperly cleaned or treated. Lyon was not responsible for running or treating water systems. Schuette should be looking for the source rather than looking for a scapegoat.

Former Attorney General Frank Kelley recently called on Schuette to drop the charges against Lyon. I’m a doctor, not a lawyer, so I can’t speak to the legal side of the argument. However, I can speak to how Schuette has inaccurately drawn a medical conclusion in this case.

His prosecution of Lyon is costing the taxpayers untold millions of dollars and done absolutely nothing to help the people of Flint. I hope the judge in this case will take the time to understand the true medical cause and effect in this case. If he does, the only conclusion is that this is a misguided charge not supported by medical facts.

Roger Kahn is a former Republican state representative and state senator from Saginaw. He also currently serves on the Michigan Capitol Commission.