The water crisis in Flint, Michigan has already cost thousands of residents sleepless nights, endless visits to doctors as they see about their poisoned children, and proven yet again that too often in this country people cannot trust their elected representatives to do what is in the public interest.
Now, it will cost Michigan Governor Rick Snyder one massive headache atop the one he has already inflicted on himself and his state. Snyder, it was announced today, is now the subject of a federal racketeering (RICO) lawsuit filed by hundreds of Flint residents.
The lawsuit alleges that the state of Michigan ran Flint’s day-to-day operations through an emergency manager, who then attempted to partially balance the city’s budget through a what he felt was a wise cost-cutting measure: Switching Flint’s water source from Lake Huron, which had been the source of water in the city for more than 50 years, to a local, heavily polluted river.
The state could have used federal bankruptcy protections for Flint, rather than appoint an emergency manager who was charged with balancing the budget, according to John Clark, an attorney with the law firm Bern Ripka, but state officials decided not to for purely political reasons:
‘Bankruptcy seems like a cop-out, and it seems like government is failing. Balancing the budget seems like the government’s gaining ground, functioning properly.’
Further, the lawsuit alleges that those charged with overseeing the welfare of Flint:
‘Misrepresented the suitability of the toxic Flint River water to Flint’s residents for approximately a two-year period, and billed Flint’s residents at rates that were the highest in the nation for toxic water that was unsuitable for use.’
Attorneys who represent Flint residents said the lawsuit may eventually be classified as a class-action so that more people can seek redress. And they added that they do not take filing such a suit the least bit lightly. Attorney Mark Bern noted:
‘We could’ve filed a lawsuit weeks, and even months ago. But we wanted to make sure that we were going to get every single person compensated. That we were going to get everybody what they deserve.
‘The damages here can go on not only for a year or two, but for generations. The tenor of this entire area has been changed forever as a result of this scheme, and that’s why we worked hard to uncover the scheme.’
The plaintiffs are seeking compensatory damages for future medical costs, legal fees, and damages for property damages, loss of business, and financial loss.
For more on the Flint water crisis, watch this report from Vox: