According to the Michigan Public Act 436 of 2012, the State can take over financially struggling cities by handing over full authority to an appointed emergency manager. The emergency managers completely usurp the authority of locally elected officials. In other words, neither the mayor nor the City Council has any authority once the emergency management is in place.
The emergency managers have the power to break collective bargaining agreements, create new ordinances, abolish existing laws, sell off assets, and take away health-care benefits from retirees. There’s only one thing the emergency manager cannot do and it is to void a contract with bondholders. Nearly every city that has had its democracy suspended under emergency management is in a community like Flint; saddled with high poverty rates. Ironically, it was a series of severe cuts in State funding that helped to push them into financial distress.
When the emergency manager stepped in, the people of Flint prepared themselves for an undemocratic, dictatorial, unprecedented situation but nothing could have prepared them for not being able to use their municipal water. It so happens that when Flint was under State control, the city’s long-term water source was switched from Detroit ‘s regional system to the newly created water authority. While the pipeline was under construction the city forced the people to use the highly corrosive water from the Flint River. It was a switch that aimed at saving $5million.
Authorities convinced the people that they wouldn’t even notice the difference, but almost immediately people started complaining about water that was brown and had an offensive odor. In fact, it was so foul, it wouldn’t even be given to animals. People also started suffering from random rashes, hair loss, muscle soreness, and stiffness. These problems were very apparent, but other dangers remained hidden.
For nine months, they were also subjected to high levels of TTHM (trihalomethanes). That information was kept secret, though, until January 2016 when the residents were informed through a letter. The residents were told not to worry, even though it was possible for them to experience problems with their livers, kidneys, or central nervous system. Also, exposure to TTHM could increase the risk of cancer.
One particular woman, a mother of four, was called a ‘liar’ and ‘stupid’ by the emergency manager when she showed him a sample of the water from her tap. She demanded that her water be tested and it was found that the level of lead was seven times higher than the federal action level.
Ironically, while the residents were forced to continue drinking and using the obviously contaminated water, General Motors was allowed to switch back to the Detroit water system because the highly-corrosive water from the river was causing engine parts to rust. Apparently, cars are much more important than humans.