Investigations Of Flint Water Crisis Have Been ‘Pathetic,’ Says Michigan Lawmaker

CREDIT: AP Photo/Paul Sancya

A member of the Michigan National Guard hands out water and test kits in Flint on January 21, 2016

On Tuesday, Michigan state Rep. Jim Townsend (D) will ask the Speaker of the House, Kevin Cotter (R), for an independent, bipartisan investigation into what caused the widespread contamination of Flint’s tap water, he told ThinkProgress.

The state’s Attorney General Bill Schuette (R) announced on Monday that he will appoint a special counsel to investigate, selecting former prosecutor Todd Flood. Flood will help establish “an ethics-based conflict wall” between the investigative team and himself, given that Schuette is responsible for defending Gov. Rick Snyder (R) against class action lawsuits that have been filed by Flint residents. But Flood himself has contributed to past campaigns for both Snyder and Schuette.

That investigation’s launch came as a bit of a turnaround, given that as recently as December, Schuette had dismissed calls for one, citing reviews by state and federal agencies.

Townsend called all of the efforts to investigate the situation thus far “pathetic.” He pointed out that Schuette is likely to run for governor when Snyder’s term is up in 2018, so “to have an attorney general who is going to run for governor investigate the current sitting governor who’s term limited, when both are in the same party, is just not going to be a credible exercise.”

Instead, Townsend wants to see a bipartisan investigation conducted by the state legislature, most likely through the oversight committee. “The only way to do this credibly, in my opinion, is to have a bipartisan legislative investigation,” he said. He wants to see it done “in a way that is completely balanced between the parties,” he said, not loaded with Republicans, who currently control all branches of the state government. “Their preference is to use a committee already stacked with Republicans so they can control the process, but that would not fly.”

He also wants the legislature to take advantage of a resource that already exists within the state: the Levin Center at Wayne Law School, founded by former Sen. Carl Levin, whose purpose is to train legislative bodies in oversight and investigation. The team at the center can train legislative members in Lansing on such techniques to be used in an investigation into the Flint water crisis. “We held a meeting last week to brief the speaker, the speaker’s head lawyer, as well as the chair of the oversight committee on how to do this,” Townsend said.

Townsend sees the water crisis as akin to the 2007 bridge collapse in Minnesota that killed 13 people and injured 145 others. “It’s a tragic thing that happened and people died. You can’t compare exactly because we don’t really know what the human toll of this Flint tragedy is yet, but certainly it’s at that level,” he said. “For Minnesota, that was a huge wakeup call.”

The current attorney general investigation will only look at whether there is any evidence that officials broke state law. Townsend wants to go further, however, and see how the water crisis occurred in the first place. “That’s what the legislature is supposed to do.”

“We just need to find out how it happened and prevent it from happening again,” he said.