Editorial: Offer Flint long-term stability

The Detroit News

The Flint water crisis has directed much-needed local and national attention to the city’s public health crisis. But that attention will eventually wane, and the current administration and Legislature will change, and the city will still be dealing with long-term effects.

It’s essential that there’s a vehicle in place to singularly focus on ensuring those needs are met, that there’s accountability for the large amounts of funds that will be directed to the city, and that Flint residents have a voice in how their city moves forward.

It’s an idea Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich will introduce through legislation. He wants to create a Flint Authority to oversee the city’s recovery.

Mismanagement, disinvestment and other critical problems plagued Flint before the water crisis, and likely will continue to do so. An authority could be one way to ensure the city’s recovery needs are being met.

“Even the healthiest city in Michigan wouldn’t be prepared for the huge influx of dollars (Flint has or will receive),” Ananich said in an editorial board meeting with The Detroit News.

Already millions of dollars of state money have gone toward various communications and assistance efforts in Flint, but residents — including Ananich — say they don’t feel the impact. Keeping track of exactly where taxpayer and foundation dollars are going to make the most difference is absolutely critical.

The proposal is mostly conceptual at this point, but there are several elements the Legislature should consider.

Ananich envisions an authority appointed by the mayor, City Council and one person selected from a short list of residents presented to the mayor by the council.

The authority would benefit from an appointee named by someone outside of City Hall, perhaps the governor or Legislature, particularly if state and federal dollars are funneled through it.

It’s also critical the appointees are not strictly political. Flint needs expertise in areas of water management, pipe replacement, and home value restructuring. Political prowess, though necessary, can’t be the only skill represented.

The authority will also be most effective if private and nonprofit backers know it’s the ultimate stop for all things related to the water crisis. So while various well-intentioned citizen groups have formed to increase attention on the city’s needs, this authority should consolidate those interests as much as possible. It should also incorporate whatever governmental groups — like the Flint Water Advisory Task Force and Mission Flint — currently exist.

And the legislation should include some kind of sunset provision. It doesn’t need to have a hard end date, but the Legislature should be careful not to create an agency that outlives its mission.

Flint city leaders need to stay on top of issues the city was facing before the water crisis unfolded. That’s difficult when the need to shepherd residents through recovery is so widespread, and still unfolding.

An authority specifically focused on the city’s long-term recovery could give residents the confidence that their interests are being represented.