- Associated Press - Thursday, December 17, 2015

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Gov. Rick Snyder has named a point person to coordinate the state’s response to the Flint water crisis after concerns about organization were raised by members of an independent task force that he created.

Harvey Hollins, who directs his Office of Urban Initiatives, will coordinate efforts, according to a letter Snyder wrote Tuesday and was released Thursday.

Snyder created the Flint Water Advisory Task Force in October to review state, federal and local governments’ actions after children were found to have elevated levels of lead in their blood and it was determined that corrosive river water was leaching lead from aging service lines.

Task force members wrote a letter to the Republican governor last week citing the absence of a coordinated framework that “measures results and clearly delineates responsibilities,” including goals and timelines. Snyder agreed and, at the task force’s recommendation, supported an online “dashboard” to keep the Flint community, public health authorities and state agencies updated.

Snyder also said public relations specialist Chris De Witt has been brought on to “strengthen community outreach efforts.”

The 99,000-resident city stopped getting its water from Detroit’s system last year in a cost-cutting move while under state emergency management but had trouble with water from an interim source, the Flint River. The state initially downplayed lead concerns but ultimately had to commit $10.6 million to reconnect Flint to Detroit and to respond with filters, testing and other services.

Local authorities declared a public health emergency, and on Monday, Flint’s new mayor declared a separate state of emergency and activated the city emergency operations center.

Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, said there should be more urgency within the Snyder administration.

“Political appointees and public relations people are what got us into this mess, and they aren’t who we need leading us out of it,” he said in a statement. “Anything less than a professional trained in emergency management or public health will not suffice.”

The task force is expected to release a report and recommendations early next year. In its letter to Snyder, the five-person panel said more steps need to be taken to reach additional children for blood-lead testing, follow up with those who have elevated levels and continue water testing. The task force also said the independent coordinator must engage with community stakeholders to “begin rebuilding community trust in state actions.”

“While the task force is far from done with our work, the initial review has presented a very disturbing situation that will require many actions to help those that have suffered,” said co-chairman Ken Sikkema, a former Senate majority leader. “We saw no reason to wait until the final report to make these initial recommendations.”

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Follow David Eggert at http://twitter.com/DavidEggert00 . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/author/david-eggert .

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