Michigan Officials Strip Flint of Right to Sue Over Water Crisis

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Michigan Officials Strip Flint of Right to Sue Over Water Crisis

Imani Gandy

A Receivership Transition Advisory Board put in charge of Flint's affairs as it transitioned from being under state control then changed the rules so that the city would have to secure permission from the state before it filed a lawsuit against the state.

Days after Flint city officials announced they might file a lawsuit against the state over the city’s water crisis, Michigan officials changed rules at the last minute and ensured Flint couldn’t sue.

Flint has been gripped by a lead-tainted water crisis that has left thousands of residents in the predominantly Black community without safe drinking water.

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver in March served notice that her city might file a lawsuit against the State of Michigan over the unusable water, the Detroit Free Press reported. Weaver announced that the city had no immediate plans to sue, but that Flint was was required to file a notice of intent to sue in order to preserve the right to bring a lawsuit. The city was allotted 180 days to bring a lawsuit, or it would lose the right to sue, according to the Detroit Free Press.

March 24 was the 180th day and therefore the last day Weaver could file the notice.

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A Receivership Transition Advisory Board put in charge of Flint’s affairs as it transitioned from being under state control then changed the rules so that the city would have to secure permission from the state before it filed a lawsuit against the state.

Despite no longer being controlled by state emergency managers, the city of Flint does not have control over its affairs.

Gov. Rick Snyder (R) in 2011 signed a law that permitted the state to seize legal authority from municipalities like Flint, and to appoint emergency managers to serve for terms of 18 months or more. A task force in March appointed by Snyder issued a scathing report that concluded that emergency managers appointed in Flint were primarily responsible for Flint’s water crisis.

Not only did emergency managers in Flint oversee the city, seizing control from the mayor and the Flint City Council, but also pushed to change the source of the city’s water supply to save money, as the New York Times reported.

Snyder since 2011 has appointed four emergency managers to run Flint. Snyder in April 2015 declared an end to Flint’s financial emergency, and Flint was moved from being under the control of an emergency manager to home rule under the guidance of a five-member Receivership Transition Advisory Board. Snyder appoints the members of the board.

The purpose of the Advisory Board is to ensure “a smooth transition” to Flint self-government by “maintaining the measures prescribed upon the emergency manager’s exit,” and reviewing “major financial and policy decisions … to ensure that they maintain fiscal and organizational stability,” according to information available on Flint’s website.

It was this Advisory Board that, upon receiving Weaver’s notice of intent to sue, quickly moved to change the rules governing Flint so that the city cannot file a lawsuit without prior approval from the Advisory Board.

Anna Heaton, a spokesperson for Snyder, said that the purpose of the change was to better involve the mayor, the city council, and other city officials, as reported by the Detroit Free Press.

Weaver, in a statement issued Sunday, said she was “disappointed to learn of the timing” of the board’s action “and the overall implications,” according to the Detroit Free Press.

“I will continue to do everything within my power to safeguard the city,” Weaver said.

Flint’s water crisis has dragged on since 2014, when Flint switched from Lake Huron to the Flint River in order to save money while the city was under emergency manager control. Tests later showed that the river water was releasing lead into the water system.

Children broke out out in rashes and adults lost clumps of their hair in the shower. Officials insisted for months that the water was safe to drink, but these symptoms have now been widely recognized as signs of lead exposure.