ACLU Michigan Executive Director: Snyder Should Waive FOIA Exemption for 'Real Accountability' in Flint Water Crisis

UPDATE: DPS Emergency Manager Darnell Earley has announced that he will step down on Feb. 29.

DETROIT—Reacting to news reports that the Environmental Protection Agency has issued an emergency order for Flint under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act and that the EPA’s Region 5 director has resigned in the wake of the Flint water crisis, ACLU of Michigan Executive Director Kary Moss issued the following statement this morning:

“We called for the EPA to investigate this crisis months ago, but the agency deferred action.  Although we welcome recent events, much more needs to be done. While necessary, the slow-drip of resignations stemming from the water catastrophe in Flint doesn’t even begin to address the enormity of issues that it has revealed. This is only the beginning of accountability. Real accountability and repair require reforms that will prevent anything like this from happening again. To that end:

Gov. Rick Snyder should ... 

  • waive his office’s exemption from the Freedom of Information Act so the public can review all communications relating to Flint—not just incomplete, selectively chosen emails from two years following the disastrous decision to use the Flint River as the city’s water source.
  • ensure that all leaders of the Department of Environment Quality and Health and Human Services possess proven track records and expertise in public health and strong backgrounds in environmental protection.
  • ensure that members of the community organizations that exposed the Flint water crisis, such as the Flint Coalition for Clean Water, are included as integral parts of any and all efforts to ameliorate the crisis.
  • take steps to ensure that there is Limited English Proficiency assistance, as the Michigan Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights called for today, to fully inform non-English speaking residents about the water crisis so that they may take appropriate steps to safeguard themselves.
  • join with the Michigan Legislature to take steps to ensure that public health—not the financial bottom line—is front and center in departments charged with protecting Michiganders’ well-being. 
  • remove Darnell Earley, the state-appointed EM who signed the order to switch to the Flint River, from his position as emergency manager of Detroit Public Schools. The Flint crisis is proof positive that he should not be overseeing our school children. Further, given the massive teacher walk-outs this month over school conditions, the state should order a forensic audit of Detroit Public Schools by an outside auditor—selected by the elected Detroit Board of Education—to determine how funds have been spent under his tenure.

The Michigan Legislature should ...

  • immediately repeal Public Act 436, the anti-democratic ‘emergency manager’ law, which transferred the power of Flint’s elected officials into a single political appointee whose decisions resulted in this disaster and enabled  the dismissal of residents’ alarms and complaints from a low-income, minority community.  All Michigan residents are entitled to the rights and benefits of our democracy.
  • amend the FOIA law to no longer exempt the Governor’s office and the Legislature from the law’s reach and make other improvements to improve transparency in this state.  Michigan—which in November received an F in ethics and transparency from the Center for Public Integrity—is one of only two states in the country that allows this FOIA exemption.
  • enact much more stringent water-testing protocols and establish stricter oversight of testing procedures and outcomes in municipalities across the state.
  • hold open hearings as have been requested by Flint’s elected representatives.

“The federal government should appoint an independent panel of experts to assess infrastructure damage in Flint.

“Only by ensuring full accountability and openness can we begin to achieve the justice that Flint deserves.”