Flint emergency managers charged over lead water crisis

Leaders appointed by Gov. Snyder stand accused of willful neglect of duty and misconduct in office.

Former Flint Emergency Manger Darnell Earley testifying before Congress in March. CREDIT: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
Former Flint Emergency Manger Darnell Earley testifying before Congress in March. CREDIT: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

Two of Flint, Michigan’s former emergency managers, appointed by the Gov. Rick Snyder to run the city, were charged with crimes related to its lead water crisis on Tuesday, according to Michigan Live.

Darnell Earley, who served as emergency manager from October 2013 until January 2015 — the period during which the city switched its water source from Detroit to the Flint River, and failed to use chemicals that would have prevented lead contamination — was charged with willful neglect of duty and misconduct in office, false pretenses, and conspiracy to commit false pretenses. Jerry Ambrose, who took over after Early, was charged with the same.

Flint’s water first started to be contaminated with lead in early 2014, but local public health emergencies weren’t officially declared until late 2015.

Before the water crisis began, Flint was placed in emergency receivership thanks to large budget deficits. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) appointed a series of emergency managers to run the city, overriding the power and control of local elected officials, who were tasked with cutting down on spending.

One of the moves made to save money was changing the city’s water source. While Earley has claimed it wasn’t his decision to make that switch, a report from a state investigatory panel found that it was emergency managers and not local officials who made that decision, which was the first step in the contamination crisis.

The crisis could potentially have been avoided, however, if corrosion control chemicals, which coat lead pipes and prevent the toxin from leeching into drinking water, had been added to the water. The failure to use those chemicals was also reportedly thanks to an attempt at saving money. Earley testified before the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in March that he was told the water was safe and that no one raised issues about corrosion.

Two others were charged on Tuesday: Howard Croft, the former director of Flint’s Department of Public Works, and Daughtery Johnson, former utilities administrator. They were both charged with false pretenses and conspiracy to commit false pretenses.

All told, 13 people have now been charged for alleged roles in the water crisis. Beyond local officials, blame has been laid with the state and the federal Environmental Protection Agency. While most investigations and charges are ongoing to determine all of the people who are responsible for the health crisis, Congressional Republicans quietly closed their investigation into Flint at the end of last week, over the protests of Democrats.