- Associated Press - Monday, March 28, 2016

The Detroit News. Mar. 24, 2016

Fixing government is job one.

Point a finger in any direction and you’ll identify a government agency or actor that failed in the Flint water crisis. The Flint Water Advisory Task Force concludes rightly that a series of government failures triggered the events that allowed lead to seep into the city’s drinking water, and then hampered the response.

The task force, appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder, highlights for particular blame the state’s emergency manager law and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

While Gov. Rick Snyder got ahead of the report by a day with a 75-point plan for fixing Flint, the report clearly indicates this was not just a water contamination crisis. It is also a government crisis. Fixing the bureaucracy and the things that are wrong in his own administration will be just as big a job, and should be the preoccupation of Snyder’s final three years in office.

Based on the task force’s findings, here’s what must happen:

.The group concludes the MDEQ is primarily responsible for the water contamination in Flint, and cited cultural problems within the agency that subverted its role of protecting the public. The agency misinterpreted the federal lead and copper rule, and stubbornly resisted calls to reconsider its methods. It also failed to provide adequate advice and monitoring to the city of Flint as it switched to a new water source. As the report recommends, the department must prioritize its role in assuring clean drinking water, should hold to higher lead and copper standards (as Snyder’s plan also recommends), provide better training to its staffers and strengthen enforcement.

.The Department of Health and Human Services’ performance was not much better. It is cited in the report for a lack of timely and effective analysis of data on childhood blood lead levels; failing to coordinate follow-up remediation efforts; poor communication with other departments and the governor’s office and not doing enough screening for lead in children statewide. MDEQ also suffers from a broken culture that places process over a nimble response to a threat. The department must be reorganized in a way to stress a more urgent response to emergencies and foster greater input from outside experts when a crisis unfolds.

.Snyder’s office failed miserably. It relied on bad information provided by state departments, and didn’t challenge the civil servants even when outside evidence indicated they were wrong. Top staffers failed to pass on critical information to the governor. Citizen complaints were not acted on in an urgent fashion. The culture in the governor’s office, too, is broken. He must revamp the way he operates. Those serving him should not be reluctant to carry a problem into his office. Snyder must be more hands-on and responsive to citizens.

.The task force concludes the various state-appointed emergency managers of Flint made the final decision to switch to the Flint River as an interim source of water. It recommends revisiting the law and its impact on local decision-making, and that is obviously necessary. When the EM law works well, as it did in the city of Detroit, Allen Park and Wayne County, it is an efficient tool for getting past a financial emergency. When it fails, as it did in Flint and Detroit Public Schools, it serves to alienate citizens and erode trust in government. The law needs to be rewritten.

.Finally, the task force questions why a community with an ample supply of drinking water pressed so hard to build and switch to the new Karegnondi Water Authority. This seems fertile ground for an investigation by the state attorney general.

Fixing Flint’s infrastructure is a major challenge for Snyder. But an even bigger task is fixing the infrastructure of a state government that is not working for the good of its citizens.___

Detroit Free Press. Mar. 23, 2016

DPS deal offers hope for Detroit kids.

Time is running out.

That’s what we’ve told you about Detroit Public Schools for years. The passage of time hasn’t made those words less true.

And finally, things are happening: Last week, the state House passed an emergency $48.7-million influx of cash necessary to keep the district’s doors open through the end of this school year. Tuesday, the Michigan Senate passed a reform package that aligns with the restructuring proposed last year by Gov. Rick Snyder and urged by Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan.

If residents of this state didn’t have a moral obligation to ensure the education of kids in the state’s largest city, in its largest school district, there’s a pragmatic justification: In a DPS bankruptcy, the state could pay $1.5 billion or more. The reform package, which would cost the state just $715 million, is a deal by any measure.

The reform package would establish a new, largely debt-free district charged with educating Detroit’s kids. The old district would exist solely to pay off DPS’s debt; when its debt is paid, the old district would be dissolved.

For many, this rankles. The district’s financial and academic woes are rooted in a complex history of racism, disinvestment, diaspora and back-handed state intervention. What happened to DPS, in large part, is the fault of neither DPS nor the Detroiters it has served. Yet the restructuring is a financial sleight-of-hand with the potential to create a financially healthy - and academically sound - district for Detroit children and parents.

The package of bills the Michigan Senate passed today includes the governance structure important to conservative lawmakers - placing the district under the oversight of the Financial Review Commission, an advisory body that oversees city finances, post-bankruptcy. Also included is the Detroit Education Commission, a body whose members would be appointed by Duggan, comprising parents and both traditional public and charter school advocates, that would green-light the opening of most traditional public and charter schools and develop accountability standards for schools in Detroit - a move that’s drawn the ire of school-choice advocates to whom ideology matters more than outcomes.

But the bills would also instate an elected board for the new district, with elections held this August, a return to local control of schools that Detroiters - like every other community in this state - deserve.

It’s a tricky needle to thread: State oversight has failed to improve DPS’s lot - under state control for most of this century, the district’s financial and academic position has worsened. To persuade outstate lawmakers to direct state funds to Detroit means additional oversight; to persuade Detroiters means local control.

And then there’s Duggan, lining up support from important constituencies, claiming key appointments - becoming, in one legislative swoop, a powerful figure in Detroit education. Some will have qualms about that. Duggan has to prove worthy of the power he’s likely to be granted.

Some 47,000 Detroit kids depend on it.

But this is, in our estimation, the best deal on offer - far better than the noxious House bill introduced earlier this month that seemed more like a punitive stab at unions and Detroiters than a genuine effort to reform a failing district.

So the House should pass these bills with all possible haste. And the Senate should do its part, passing the emergency cash allocation.

Because time, after all, is running out.___

Lansing State Journal. Mar. 21, 2016

Keep fighting against trafficking.

An ugly side of Lansing was exposed this week. A side we ignore because it often happens in the shadows and makes us uncomfortable.

Human trafficking “is alive and well in Michigan,” says Courtney Walsh, regional specialist for Polaris, which runs the National Human Trafficking Resource Center.

While the Monday arrest of Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III on charges of pandering and engaging with prostitutes has garnered national attention, trafficking and prostitution are not new phenomena.

In 2013 and 2014, there were 716 arrests for prostitution and human trafficking-related crimes in Michigan.

“I assure you, it’s not a victimless crime,” says Dr. LaClaire Bouknight, a Lansing physician and chair of the Capital Area Anti-Trafficking Alliance.

It’s also not a crime that can be ignored.

Michigan recognizes this, and has been addressing it for years.

. Attorney General Bill Schuette, when he took office in 2011, established a special unit to prosecute human traffickers.

. In 2014, the Legislature passed and Gov. Rick Snyder signed a 21-bill package described at the time as among the toughest in the nation. Included in the package was the formation of the Michigan Human Trafficking Commission within the Attorney General’s Office.

. UAW Local 6000, which represents thousands of employees in the Michigan Department of Health & Human Services, is working with the department to train more workers to watch for signs of human trafficking among those with whom they come in contact.

The National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline took more than 700 calls from Michigan in 2015 and reported 152 cases of trafficking. That was the eighth-highest in the nation. And a strong reminder there is work yet to be done.

More and better training for educators, physicians, first responders and others to spot potential signs of human trafficking would be valuable. Stronger reporting on human trafficking cases would help elevate the crime’s profile as one that will be prosecuted.

The intense scrutiny of the trafficking and prostitution climate in Greater Lansing after the arrest of a long-time prosecutor for allegedly breaking the law he swore to uphold could help raise the public consciousness of an issue too many people ignore.

“The reason why it’s hiding is because people don’t want to see that,” said Lansing-area filmmaker Laura Swanson, who is producing a documentary on trafficking.

It’s time to see the traffickers. It’s time to help trafficking victims. And it’s time to demand steep penalties for those convicted of these crimes.___

Lansing State Journal. Mar. 25, 2016

One senator holding up Flint water relief.

Michigan’s Democratic Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters have bipartisan support for a $220 million bill to fix and replace lead contaminated pipes in Flint and other cities.

But one senator, Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, so far has not allowed the matter to come up for a vote. Lee’s chief objection? He says Michigan has a budget surplus and does not need federal money to fix the problem.

So ask yourself this: If the Flint water crisis were occurring in Sen. Lee’s home state of Utah, and not in Michigan, do you for one second think he would say the same thing if Utah also had a budget surplus? No way.

This is politics, pure and simple, and it is hurting people in a city that has already paid too high a price for government inaction and ineptness.

Stabenow and U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, who represents Flint, are running out of patience with Lee.

“This is not an abstraction. This is 100,000 kids and adults all suffering every single day and it’s pretty frustrating,” Kildee said in an Associated Press story. “We will not give up, that’s for sure.”

And Stabenow noted that Flint residents have a right to assume “that when you get up in the morning and turn on the faucet, when you take a shower or you feed your children, clean water is going to come out of the pipes. We all assume that. That is pretty much a basic human right.”

Lee apparently is concerned about adding to the federal deficit. “What’s really happening here is that Washington politicians are using the crisis in Flint as an excuse to funnel taxpayer money to their own home states, and trying to sneak it through the Senate without proper debate and amendment. I respectfully object,” Lee said in a statement.

But the fact is the Flint legislation would be paid for using $250 million in unspent Energy Department money, so concerns about adding to the deficit seem without merit.

This dispute over the Senate bill needs to be resolved. The people of Flint have suffered long enough. Pass the legislation, now.___

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