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'What happened to my town was a crime.' Flint senator supports water crisis prosecution.

Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio

Former Governor Rick Snyder is one of nine people arraigned Thursday on criminal charges tied to the Flint water crisis. Michigan state senator and long-time Flint resident Jim Ananich is glad the prosecution is happening.

Michigan Solicitor General Fadwa Hamoud announced the charges against Snyder, seven other former state officials, and one current state employee.

“Public officials are subject to the same laws as everybody else. There are no velvet ropes in our criminal justice system," she said.

"This all could have been avoided, if they just would have listened to [city residents] instead of showing them such disrespect." -Sen. Jim Ananich

Ananich, D-Flint, is the Michigan House minority leader. In an interview with Michigan Radio's Morning Edition, Ananich said the prosecution is important for city residents.  

"It helps to validate all the concerns that citizens brought forward, all the times they were told they were lying, all the times were told  they were crazy, all the times they were lied to," he said. "This all could have been avoided, if they just would have listened to them instead of showing them such disrespect because maybe they didn't wear fancy clothes or maybe their English wasn't as perfect as theirs."

Flint's disastrous switch to the Flint River as its water source is blamed for a Legionnaires' disease outbreak that killed at least 12 people.

"Those [state officials] could have saved a lot of lives, if they woud have of listened to the citizens of Flint who were trying to protect themselves and their loved ones," Ananich said. "What happened to my town was a crime."

Ananich is hearing mixed reactions to the charges from his neighbors and other constituents.  

"It's all over the spectrum. A lot of folks, because of their anger, and because what happened to them, they wanted very harsh charges against Governor Snyder. But a lot of folks, I think, are seeing that this is a very serious investigation. A lot of very serious charges were brought forward," he said. 

Setting a precedent

According to the state archivist, no governors or former governors have been charged with crimes related to their time in office until now. Some critics have suggested that these were policy decisions that shouldn't be prosecuted criminally. Ananich disagrees.  

"I think what folks are really saying is, 'There should be some people that are above the law,' and I just don't think that's the case. I think no person, no politician, no matter how privileged or rich you are, you should be held accountable for your actions." 

As for the argument that charging Snyder is a publicity stunt, Ananich points to the fact that Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel did not work on the case.

"The attorney general set up a wall. This is a solicitor general and a and a prosecutor from Wayne County. They've done no publicity on [the case], so I don't I don't understand that argument," he said. "As the trial goes forward, we'll see the evidence come out, and people can make a determination for themselves."

Work left to do for the Legislature

The city of Flint's finances were in shambles and it was under state oversight for years. Michigan's Treasury Department and the emergency managers Snyder appointed decided to switch to the Flint River for drinking water, which along with the failure to properly treat that water, started the crisis.  

Ananich said despite that failing, and other communities' complaints about the emergency manager system, the Legislature has not truly addressed it. 

"That's something that I really want to tackle this session because what happened is [Republican state leaders] just ignore the emergency manager law. They've not repealed it. They've not put a mechanism in place to make sure that cities and townships and schools don't fall into financial trouble again. They've just basically said we're never going to use this law again," he said. 

"I think that's the exact wrong approach. A lot of our cities are still in very desperate need. The city of Flint, its finances didn't get better. ... I think we have to take a real serious look at how we fund our local governments. They're at the mercy of the state and many of them are struggling."

A long recovery

As for Flint's overall recovery, Ananich believes it has begun, but it will take a long time before it's finished. 

"[W]e're starting to sort of turn the page even though we're not healed. I think it's it's going to take a long time. For the children and some of the families that were hurt, it could take a generation to determine whether or not that neurotoxin damaged a child or not. We have to operate as if it did," he said. 

"The people are very strong. They're very resilient. I just want them to have a period of time where they're not having to be so resilient they can actually start to thrive. And it's going to take a while to get to that."

Doug Tribou joined the Michigan Public staff as the host of Morning Edition in 2016. Doug first moved to Michigan in 2015 when he was awarded a Knight-Wallace journalism fellowship at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
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