Why did it take so long for state and federal government to do something about lead in the water in Flint, Michigan? Or, put another way, who is to blame, and who should have fixed it?
There’s a telling moment within the 274 pages of emails released by Governor Rick Snyder’s office about Flint. Dennis Muchmore, then chief of staff to the governor, puzzles over who should be on the hook. He gripes about Representative Dan Kildee, and mentions former state Treasurer Andy Dillon:
Muchmore went on, “The real responsibility resists with the County, city and [Flint’s water authority], but since the issue here is the health of citizens and their children, we’re taking a pro-active approach.”
The question of who really is responsible has become suddenly widespread. On Thursday, news broke that the U.S. House will call Snyder to testify. The EPA official responsible for Michigan also resigned on Thursday. Democratic presidential hopefuls Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have both called for Snyder to resign. The Wall Street Journal points a finger at every level of government. Disentangling the blame proves to be a difficult task.
Muchmore’s statement may seem a bit callous, but his mention of Dillon is somewhat tangential: After all, Dillon’s role was simply to sign off on the change to taking water from the Flint River, because of the size of the transaction. But Muchmore omitted the reason why Dillon was involved—a fact that also complicates his assignment of blame to the city. The switch to water from the Flint River occurred under the oversight of an emergency manager appointed by Snyder. Under a state law that Snyder signed, the governor can appoint a manager to take over cities in financial emergency.