FLINT, Mich. (AP) — Chief among the priorities national and local NAACP leaders listed Tuesday for the lead-tainted water crisis in Flint is the repeal of Michigan’s emergency manager law, which they view as a contributor to the public health emergency.
The “15-point priority plan,” which the NAACP drew up with Flint residents, was the focus of a community meeting and was discussed at a closed-door, evening meeting with Gov. Rick Snyder, National NAACP President and Chief Executive Cornell Brooks and other officials.
The plan also calls for the distribution of bottled water to households to be steered from National Guard members to Flint youth who would be paid minimum wage, as well as free home inspections to determine the extent of damage to the plumbing caused by lead that leached from aging city pipes.
Brooks, head of the nation’s oldest civil rights organization, told reporters after the meeting that it was a “frank” and “forthright conversation.” He said the Republican governor discussed state efforts and listened to the proposals, which include creating a victims’ fund. Brooks added that Snyder’s regret for what has happened in Flint appears “genuine.”
“We had a very robust conversation about specific reforms: a need for economic development, a need to ensure that people who have been devastated economically have a stake in the restoration of water in their city,” said Brooks, who also called for a U.S. Justice Department investigation that focuses on potential civil rights violations.
Snyder and staff didn’t speak to reporters.
It was the latest in a series of events tied to the city’s switch in 2014 from the Detroit municipal water system to corrosive Flint River water while under state emergency management to save money. The river water was not properly treated, causing lead to get into the drinking water supply. Flint has since switched back to Detroit water, but tests have shown high lead levels in the blood of some Flint children.
Snyder said earlier Tuesday that he’s asked the federal government for additional health care services for Flint children and young adults who may have been exposed to lead-tainted water. President Barack Obama declared an emergency in Flint earlier this month, qualifying the city for $5 million.
The crisis has even attracted the attention of the United Nations, which is “looking at the human implications closely,” according to Baskut Tuncak, a UN expert on hazardous substance and waste.
Michigan’s attorney general is investigating the process that left Flint’s drinking water contaminated with lead, but that effort is drawing bipartisan criticism. A Republican leader said Tuesday that it duplicates the work of a state task force, and Democrats have questioned whether the special counsel will be impartial.
Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof said the probe into Flint — which will be led by a former assistant prosecutor for Wayne County and a retired head of Detroit’s FBI office — should wait until a Snyder-appointed panel finishes its work.
“There’s plenty of time to look at what happened and who did what when and where, but right now we have people that don’t have safe drinking water and we’re going to make sure that’s done first,” Meekhof said.
Meekhof, a Republican, suggested Attorney General Bill Schuette should pay for the outside investigators with existing funds and not ask the Legislature for additional money.
Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, a Democrat from Flint, criticized Schuette for taking months too long to investigate, but said Tuesday that he’ll “give him the benefit of the doubt until I see otherwise.” A day earlier, Democratic state Rep. LaTanya Garrett asked U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to open a federal investigation.
“I am not confident that he can serve in the best interest of the Flint citizens,” Garrett said of the attorney general.
A Schuette spokesman declined to comment Tuesday.
It is unclear whether the attorney general’s probe could result in criminal or civil charges. The investigation could focus on whether environmental laws were broken or whether there was official misconduct in the process that left Flint’s drinking water contaminated. Todd Flood, the former Wayne County assistant prosecutor leading the attorney general probe, declined to discuss which laws may have been broken, except to note that “a plethora of laws” could be used and that there are prohibitions against misconduct by public officials.
Schuette declined to investigate in December but later reversed course and announced the inquiry Jan. 15. That came more than four months after a Virginia Tech researcher said the Flint River was leaching lead from pipes into people’s homes because the water was not treated for corrosion.
Schuette has said the special counsel will prevent conflicts of interest, since the attorney general’s office also will defend the state against lawsuits brought by Flint residents.
Residents of Flint have been urged to use bottled water and to put filters on faucets. The EPA said Tuesday that teams are preparing to collect samples to confirm that lead is being removed by those filters.
Karoub reported from Flint. Associated Press writer Corey Williams in Detroit contributed to this report.