On Wednesday, Congress will hear testimony from government officials and Flint residents about the years-long problem of contaminated water. Missing from the event, however, will be Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) as well as all of the emergency managers who were appointed to run the city over recent years.
The Republicans who run the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform subpoenaed Darnell Earley late Tuesday night, the former emergency manager who served during the water switch and ensuing contamination issues, after he refused an earlier call to testify. They also invited the director of the state’s Department of Environmental Quality. But no one else in state or city leadership was called to testify.
In response to the invite list, all 18 Democrats on the oversight committee sent a letter to Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) on Wednesday exercising the right to demand a minority day of hearings at which Snyder and the three Flint emergency managers that served since 2011 would be invited to testify. “Although we have made multiple requests for you to invite the Governor, to date you have neither invited him to testify nor provided a timeframe by which you might do so,” the letter reads.
“There is no question that the Governor’s actions are directly relevant to the Committee’s investigation,” the Democrats write. “He championed the state law in 2011 giving him authority to appoint the emergency managers in Flint, his appointees oversaw the process to seek cost-savings by transitioning Flint off the Detroit water system and onto treated water from the Flint River, and his appointees overruled a vote by the Flint City Council in 2015 to return to Detroit water.” Some have also claimed that Snyder’s administration made the decision to switch the water source itself, and the administration has come under fire for leaked documents showing it sent bottled water to state employees in Flint long before water was made available to residents. Snyder’s own task force laid primary blame for the crisis with the state Department of Environmental Quality, and he himself said in his state of the state address that he takes “full responsibility.”
Flint residents themselves will be at the hearing on Wednesday, even if their governor will be absent. LeAnne Walters, one of the residents who first confronted city leadership about the quality of the water, will testify. A group of residents also boarded buses Tuesday night to attend as well as hold a prayer vigil following the hearing. They will also demand that Snyder be made to testify before Congress.
Melissa Mays, another Flint resident who was involved in protesting the water switch early on, will be in Washington, D.C. with her three sons. “I want them to know that the people responsible for poisoning our family will be held accountable, and that I will do whatever it takes to make sure that all Flint residents have safe, affordable water,” she said in a statement. Flint resident Bishop Bernadel Jefferson also said, “We are making the trip from Flint to Washington, D.C. to show members of Congress that we’re serious about making sure that the people responsible for this manmade disaster are held accountable.”
The letter from Democrats on the oversight committee also renews their call for the oversight committee to request documents from Michigan and to conduct a thorough investigation of what happened. “[T]he Republican staff memo for today’s hearing references actions by the City of Flint and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), but it disregards actions by the Governor and other state officials,” they write. “[W]e believe we have a moral obligation to the people of Flint to examine this matter comprehensively, hearing from state officials as well as federal officials, and obtaining documents form all sources rather than only from the EPA.” Michigan’s Attorney General Bill Schuette has announced an investigation into what happened, but it will only look at whether state officials broke the law and questions have been raised about its independence. Since then, the FBI and Department of Justice have said they’re investigating as well.