NMU officials disregard Flint water crisis

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Winter Keefer

In a written statement from the Board of Trustees (BOT) to The North Wind addressing Gov. Rick Snyder speaking at May commencement, BOT member Robert Mahaney briefly addressed the Flint water crisis, saying: “The objections for having Governor Snyder as our speaker tend to center around the Flint water crisis. Mistakes were made in Flint by a multitude of parties and agencies at the local, state and federal level. Governor Snyder has acknowledged these mistakes and has worked diligently to solve Flint’s problems. Our hearts go out to our fellow Michiganders who were harmed by the events of Flint.”

A single paragraph was dedicated to this topic at the very end of a nearly two-page letter, and in general, when addressing this controversy, how many times has Flint been mentioned by those who are in support of Snyder speaking?

The water crisis has been pushed under the rug by the administration and BOT members during rhetoric justifying the governor’s invitation. They have called peaceful protest and student created petitions against Snyder speaking an attempt of “censorship” and said protesters are somehow not open to the free exchange of ideas. What?

If you admit the primary complaint against Snyder is that he was the sitting governor during one of the largest health crises in American history, why is this being painted as a partisan issue? Emergency manager legislation—that Snyder passed—allowed unelected officials to be in charge of digging Flint out of financial crisis. Changing water lines was a money-cutting tactic used by these unelected officials, which is what led to the water crisis.

On April 10, State Treasurer Nick Khouri repealed all remaining emergency manager orders and lifted state oversight on Flint’s finances, leaving Flint independent from emergency managers for the first time since 2011. Saying “the controversy isn’t about Flint, it’s about Gov. Snyder being a republican” is more than a little naive.

This is not about Snyder passing controversial legislation. This is about him passing controversial legislation that led to the poisoning of thousands of children and the death of at least a dozen people from Legionnaires’ disease.

The argument that the current sitting governor is not being invited as a political figure because he cannot re-run after this term is also hard to take seriously. This argument was made after the initial invitation was extended to Snyder last semester.

Since that time, Flint has been back in the national spotlight as the State of Michigan pulls funding for Flint residents to have free, clean bottled water while approving a contract with Nestlé that allows the corporation to draw 400 gallons of Michigan ground-water a minute through a permit that cost only $200. Snyder is still a politician making political decisions.

Gov. Snyder tweeted on April 6, “Data has shown Flint’s water is testing the same as or better than similar cities across the state.”

His statement misses a few very important details. An April 8 article by The New York Times reported that: “Although state officials said Flint’s water supply met federal standards, the water can still pick up lead when it flows through the thousands of lead or galvanized steel lines that remain in the city.”

This is referencing the fact that Flint is currently working with contractors to replace all of the lines affected by corrosive water by 2020. So far, only a little over 6,200 have been replaced according to acting city administrator Steve Branch. Approximately 12,000 could remain contaminated.

Within the past week, a meeting between Snyder and a state-sponsored Flint water advisory group to discuss clean bottled water no longer being provided to Flint was canceled due to Flint Mayor Karen Weaver threatening to sue the state a day prior.

According to an article by MLive, Snyder’s office called the meeting a “candid and open discussion.” However, Weaver described the governor’s comments as callous, explaining that he told her the city needs to “get over it,” in reference to his decision to end state payments for bottled water for Flint.

The right to clean water is not a partisan issue. This piece of Snyder’s time as governor deserves more than a paragraph. Saying, “Our hearts go out to our fellow Michiganders who were harmed by the events of Flint,” does not justify the invitation of a man whose decisions have led to the poisoning of our fellow classmates’ families.

The focus of May commencement will not be on celebrating accomplishments of my graduating class. The focal point of this day was taken away from us as soon as Gov. Rick Snyder accepted the invitation to be our commencement speaker.

The blame for this loss of focus should not rest on those who choose to protest. The fault lies in those who ignored the imminent protest that will occur when graduates are forced to celebrate this day in front of the man who was the sitting governor during the decision making that led to the Flint water crisis.