Can We Trust Flint’s Leaders w/ $170 Million in Federal Aid? [OPINION]
It looks like the government is finally getting their act together on the Flint water crisis, as a $170 million aid package was just approved by the House. Celebration may be premature, but it's not too early to start thinking about who we can trust to handle those funds. Spoiler Alert: The answer is not Flint's Mayor or City Council.
Federal aid efforts for the Flint water crisis haven't had the easiest trip through government, mostly because it's considered to be a "man-made disaster." There is finally some light at the end of the tunnel though, as the $170 million aid package that just passed the House with overwhelming bi-partisan support seems promising. The bill will not be finalized until after the election in November, but it's never too early to think ahead.
So, for the sake of this article, let's just say that the bill goes through, and we get $170 million to fix Flint's water problems -- are you comfortable handing that money over to our city council and mayor? While I am vehemently opposed to falling into another Emergency Manager situation, I sure as hell don't want our elected officials dipping into that money either, and I'll tell you why.
The best example we can look to for guidance here is not water-related. I'm talking, of course, about the trash dispute that is currently going on between Mayor Karen Weaver and City Council. Weaver and Councilman Eric Mays want to switch to Rizzo Environmental Services, and the rest of the City Council are fighting them. Even more troubling, is the involvement of former Flint Mayor Woodrow Stanley, who stands to make an alleged $1.7 million on the deal as a consultant for Rizzo.
Rizzo's bid looks slightly cheaper on paper, and seems to have been shown preferential treatment by Weaver. They were allegedly allowed to resubmit, and their deal didn't even meet the minimum requirement for services. There has also been questions as to whether there will be additional charges incurred by employing them (many who are in the know say there will be). Competitive bids from both our current company -- Republic Services, and Emterra Environmental were promptly swept aside. All of this leads us to a very important question -- why would the mayor go out of her way to try and sneak an 11th hour trash collection deal by the city council, and even go to court several times to make it happen?
She could just believe the city will save money with Rizzo, but many, even those on the city council, are saying it's corruption. It’s been said that Councilman Eric Mays is likely receiving a “kickback” from Stanley if this deal with Rizzo goes through, and that’s why he is backing the mayor on this issue. Mayor Weaver being in line for a share of Woodrow Stanley's 10% consultant fee would explain her actions more believably than just taking the lowest bid... and even those savings are questionable, as was previously stated.
Hypotheticals aside -- something stinks in our local government. Are you confident that they will spend the $170 million the right way? Donations and assistance funding has been pouring in, and there's going to be a lot of contracts to sign before this crisis is over. That leaves plenty of room for sweetheart deals for friends of the administration. I'm not saying that this is the case, but someone who's "morally-flexible" could potentially see some pretty nice kickbacks from said deals. Hell, someone opportunistic enough could even retire off of the Flint water crisis. Disgusting, huh?
Even if our sources are completely wrong and there is no corruption here, just an honest disagreement of policy (which does happen all the time in politics) -- $170 million is a lot to hand over to a group of people who seem incapable of cooperating. As we've seen in Congress for the past several years -- politicians who can't put their differences aside to work together, usually don't. Flint's situation is too dire for petty disputes to get in the way.
Who can we trust to handle these funds -- the state government? Hell no. The state dipping into our business is how we got here in the first place. The federal government? Even that seems a little sketchy, as federal entities hold their share of failures in the water crisis too. Perhaps it would be best if there is some type of oversight, like Senator Jim Ananich has proposed, for the spending of those funds. Even then, what if someone crooked gets on that board? Who appoints this board... Governor Rick Snyder? It's scary that something this big could be messed up without our say... again.
The bottom line is that, as uncomfortable as it might be for a city who's been repeatedly failed by politicians, we're going to have to trust somebody with this money. Who is best suited for that? I don't know, but I can tell you that some of Flint's current leaders are in over their heads already. This problem is too big for us to let them fail, or, even worse, to let them line their pockets at our expense.