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Flint's water crisis another example of how Gov. Snyder seems incapable of admitting mistakes

Oct 2, 2015

One of the things I most dislike about most politicians is their unwillingness to admit when they’ve screwed up.

Take Dennis Williams, the leader of the United Auto Workers union. He and his lieutenants were so out of touch with the membership that they negotiated a contract that the angry workers rejected by almost two to one.

Yesterday, when the results were in, Williams said. “We don’t consider this a setback,” we consider this “part of the process.”

Imagine Bo Schembechler saying that after losing.

Of course this was a setback and an embarrassing one; Williams just doesn’t have the guts to admit it.

But this pales in comparison to what Governor Rick Snyder said yesterday.

Snyder, even more than most politicians, seems incapable of admitting mistakes.

We saw that in his stubborn clinging for months to Aramark, the appallingly incompetent food service contractor, who he didn’t finally fire until long after even his aides urged him to do so. And we are seeing it now in Flint, where people are being poisoned by the water.

This was clearly a disaster from the start.

A series of terrible decisions were made by a succession of Snyder-appointed emergency managers and the present mayor, Dayne Walling, who is running for reelection.

To save money, Flint stopped buying Detroit water a year and a half ago and switched to Flint River water.

This was clearly a disaster from the start.

The water was often discolored and smelled and tasted bad. It turned out to be full of bacteria.

The city dumped massive amounts of disinfectant in the water, so much so that it turned out to heighten the risk of cancer. Six months ago, Flint city council begged to be allowed to reconnect the city to Detroit’s water system. But Jerry Ambrose, the Snyder-appointed emergency manager, refused.  Either lying through his teeth or refusing to see reality, he said, “Water from Detroit is no safer than water from Flint.”

Since then, we’ve learned that the Flint River water is so corrosive it is causing lead to leach out of ancient pipes in many homes. Officials have declared a public health emergency. There are now documented cases of infants and small children with lead poisoning from this.

The governor should use all his powers to reconnect Flint to Detroit's water system and then find a way to pay for it.

This clearly is as serious a situation as a tornado. The state knows how to react quickly, regardless of cost, in those cases, and it’s clear what should happen here.

The governor should use all his powers to reconnect Flint to Detroit’s water system and then find a way to pay for it.

He should have done this already. But instead, he’s being utterly wishy-washy.  Two days ago, asked about Flint River water, he said, “In terms of a mistake, what I would say is we found there are probably things that weren’t as fully understood when that switch was made.”

He added, in words that would be funny if children weren’t being poisoned, “It appears that lead levels could be higher… we’re looking at making sure they’re within safe limits.”

Well, they aren’t.

The governor is talking about trying to get people filters.

How about just switching to water that isn’t polluted? Yes, that will cost money.

My guess is that a generation of brain-damaged children will cost even more.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.