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The complicated relationship between Gov. Snyder and Flint Mayor Karen Weaver

As if their relationship wasn’t complicated enough already, now Flint Mayor Karen Weaver is threatening to take Governor Rick Snyder and the state of Michigan to court.

Weaver signed a notice last week that named the state (but not Snyder, specifically), the Department of Environmental Quality, and four state water quality experts as potential defendants.

The notice, which is not an actual lawsuit or even a guarantee that a lawsuit is going to be filed, is meant to preserve the city’s right to file a lawsuit down the road.

But, city officials never told state officials this notice was going to be filed.

That was a blunder which ratcheted up tensions between the Snyder and the Weaver teams. The city says there was a deadline of March 25th to put a notice with the state Court of Claims. Although it’s not clear if that’s actually the case. (The city has not answered questions on the significance of that date.) But it was the threat of the lawsuit that caught people’s attention.

Frosty relations

This latest episode shows how the Snyder and Weaver administrations still haven’t figured out how to communicate with each other.

It’s just one more issue since last November when Weaver unseated incumbent mayor Dayne Walling just as the city was regaining control of its government following four years of a state-appointed emergency manager

Team Snyder has felt burned at times by Weaver’s efforts on behalf of Hillary Clinton, who’s worked to make Flint a presidential campaign issue. Weaver made an ad on Clinton’s behalf as the national attention has been a frustration and an embarrassment for Snyder (not to mention a weight hanging on Republicans running for... anything).

But Weaver’s also felt spurned and left out of a lot of Snyder’s planning on Flint, including the governor’s announcement of his 75-point plan for the city. Weaver was also not invited to the recent presentation of the Flint Task Force report.

Moving forward

Now, Weaver quickly got in touch with the governor after the notice of the lawsuit, and she issued a statement that was supposed to help calm the waters. But it’s pretty clear, these two are still not on the same page.

Weaver wants more money for Flint, faster action, a commitment to removing all the lead water lines in the city.

Republicans are arguing for a slower approach and saying Flint doesn’t get a pass on accountability in terms of the money that might get sent that way. (Remember, Lansing Republicans these days are not used to not being in charge of the conversation).

It’s likely Republicans are not going to be inclined to send millions - or hundreds of millions - of dollars to Flint if it’s possible they’ll have to send more under a court order.

So, Republicans in the Legislature will be looking for a deal that includes some guarantees about no lawsuits from the city as part of any Flint rescue package.

Mayor Weaver may have created a new friction point, but she’s also - whether she meant to or not - played a card. It’s a reminder that what happened in Flint remains a political hammer, and Lansing Republicans aren’t the only ones with options.

Zoe Clark is Michigan Public's Political Director. In this role, Clark guides coverage of the state Capitol, elections, and policy debates.
Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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