Michigan Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette’s decision to charge Mike Glasgow, Stephen Busch and Mike Prysby, three low level employees of the state of Michigan and the city of Flint in connection with the lead poisoning of roughly 10,000 children is not enough. The April 20 charges made national headlines because it is the first time criminal charges emanated from the crisis in the city.
That officials in state government – including some members of the governor’s senior team – would turn a deaf ear to the cries of Flint residents for 18 months while subjecting them to drinking lead-contaminated water is a crime that warrants serious prison time.
While the AG announcement was a welcome sign, it still raised eyebrows because of the individuals who were charged.
Consider this: Glasgow, 40, was Flint’s laboratory and water quality supervisor, Busch, 40, was the Lansing district coordinator for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance and Prysby, 53, was an official with DEQ.
While their roles were critical and their actions including for allegedly falsifying on paper that some Flint homes were lead compliant should not be excused, these individuals were never major decision makers in state government.
In addition the various roles that these individuals played were already reported in the press, and the charges are just the result of what was basically highlighted in media reports after the Flint crisis became a full blown national story.
What is not clear now is when the other shoe will drop. If it does, will the AG go after the big fish?
Thousands of emails have now been released by the state that showed the actions of some significant players in state government, who either deliberately delayed state action to the crisis in Flint, or simply did not care to respond.
Even in the case of the Legionnaires’ disease outbreak during the crisis which has already claimed more than 10 lives in Genesee County, and could possibly be linked to the Flint water contamination, the director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Nick Lyon (according to emails made public) knew about the deadly disease for a year and did not inform the governor.
Lyon is still leading the department and hasn’t offered a resignation or public explanation, nor has he been publicly asked to resign by the governor.
Schuette is on the right track with his investigation, led by former Detroit FBI chief Andy Arena. But with questions about his Republican Party affiliation with Gov. Rick Snyder, Schuette has a high bar to maintain the integrity of this process. That means he needs to go where the facts lead and should not give any impression that this investigation is driven by political calculations.
I was initially skeptical of Schuette’s investigation because last year he declined a request from Flint State Rep. Sheldon Neeley to investigate the water crisis. More so his anti-environmental regulation record has caused some to doubt his ability to conduct a thorough probe of what happened in Flint.
But I’m willing to give the AG the benefit of the doubt as long as this investigation does not become a whitewashed probe. At the announcement of the latest charges against the environmental workers he said no one was above the law.
We can only hope the same is true for the top guns in state government whose bad actions leading up to the public health disaster in Flint have already been detailed in emails.
Bankole Thompson is a columnist for The Detroit News. Email email@example.com