On the heels of growing scrutiny over his handling of the unfolding water crisis in Flint, Michigan, which has exposed thousands of children to high contamination levels of lead, the Michigan Democratic Party has called on Gov. Rick Snyder to step down.The call for his resignation on Thursday came after liberal group Progress Michigan obtained an email through a public-records request that says the governor’s office was long aware of the heath crisis. The email, the watchdog group said, reveals that Snyder’s adviser Harvey Hollins knew about a possible connection between Flint’s highly contaminated water supply and the surge in diagnosed cases of Legionnaires’ disease in the area since last March. Still, the governor took 10 months to disclose the outbreak to the public.
In a statement urging the embattled governor to step down, Brandon Dillon, the party’s chair, said Snyder should take full responsibility for “actions that take place under his watch.”
“Gov. Snyder is attempting to employ this tactic again, claiming he wasn’t told of the connection, made almost a year before he informed the public, between Flint’s water and the legionella bacteria,” said Dillon. “This governor is either a victim of the culture of secrecy that he created or he’s lying. If he didn’t know, the incompetence is astounding. If he’s lying, the betrayal of trust is unforgivable.”
Snyder apologized to residents for a contaminated water supply in his State of the State address last month and said his administration would do whatever it can to combat the crisis.
He defended himself in a statement his office released on Thursday. It said the Legionnaires’ outbreak was not brought to his attention until last month. Since then, the governor “has made changes at the department to address these concerns and change the culture to best protect the well-being of Michiganders,” the statement reads.
It also added that when Hollins reviewed the March 13 email about the disease, he requested the Department of Environmental Quality to “look into the concerns, check with its experts and get the facts.” That came after the agency said the information was “premature and prejudice” and that attributing it to the Flint River, the city’s water source, was “beyond irresponsible,” according to the governor’s office.
“If the concerns were determined to be credible, the director was to bring the issue to the attention of the governor,” his office said.
Snyder’s handling of the water crises has also triggered protests and calls for him to be indicted. For months, residents complained about the taste, smell and appearance of the water, but officials told them the water was safe. Tests later found elevated lead levels in the blood of local children.
In last night’s Democratic presidential debate on MSNBC, Sen. Bernie Sanders renewed his call for Snyder to step down. “The idea that there has not been a dramatic response is beyond comprehension,” he said. “One wonders if this had been a white suburban community what kind of response there might have been.”
His fellow contender Hillary Clinton, who will take a break from the campaign trail in New Hampshire and plans to travel to Flint on Sunday, raised concerns about children exposed to high contamination of lead.