As happens with far too many scandals the attention of the American people is known to drift as the developments in the slow investigatory process become less frequent and the results less volatile. That is until a story comes along like this one, which has the capacity to stoke the flames back to their full wrath and fury. The decade-long saga of the Flint, Michigan Dirty Water Scandal has seen Governors and state officials indicted and courts tied up for years at a time while the everyday Americans are left in the lurch subsisting on bottled water and filters. With the termination of a single official Liane Shekter Smith, at the time the head of Michigans’ Drinking water division, perhaps folks thought they were finally seeing some accountability. Well, that all changed on November 4th, 2021. The state of Michigan just agreed to pay $300,000 to Smith to settle a wrongful discharge suit a few weeks after an arbitrator ruled that her 2016 firing was done by officials “who were likely looking for a “public scapegoat”.
“The department has decided to agree to the settlement amount of $300,000, which resolves the dispute and allows both the agency and Ms. Shekter Smith to move forward,” said Hugh McDiarmid Jr., spokesman for the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy.
According to Insurance Journal, “Asked why the state is paying more, McDiarmid said there was no guarantee that the arbitrator’s figure would hold during an appeal. Shekter Smith had been seeking more than $900,000 in lost compensation.”
“A condition of the settlement is that she will not seek her job back. And her involuntary resignation will be changed to a voluntary one,” he told The Associated Press, declining further comment.”
Scandal Surrounds The Firing of Liane Shekter Smith
The saga of Flint Michigan’s water supply is a long and terrifying example of corruption, neglect, and incompetence run amok. It dates back to 2014-15 when high lead levels were found in the Flint, MI water supply following the city’s conversion to draw water from the Flint River rather than connection to the Detroit metro water supply. What followed is one of the most shameful and corrupt stories in American history. As reported by the NRDC, Flint resident’s have seen help finally come in the form of legal wins and programs to remove lead from their water system that is still in progress today through writing,
“Governor Snyder seemed to signal the all-clear in April 2018 when he announced that the city would stop providing bottled water to residents. Indeed, there is some evidence that the situation in Flint is improving, with lead levels remaining below the federal action level for the past four six-month monitoring periods, from July 2016 to June 2018.”
Still, up to 17% of Flint homes have readings exceeding 15ppm the federal standard.
A ScapeGoat For Flint
But in 2016 Keith Creagh, of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources terminated Shekter-Smith citing a “failure of leadership” after taking control of the department at Gov. Snyder’s request.
“I found no record of Ms. Shekter-Smith, as they would say, throwing the flag. Saying that this is significant. The people of Flint have lead in their water. We need additional help,” Creagh said, according to a transcript.
In her defense Shektor-Smith told the arbitrator, “It’s a community water system that was obviously having some issues,” she said, referring to 2014, the first year of using the Flint River. “I’m keeping an eye on being kept informed, keeping my management informed, but there were a lot of other things going on in the office at the time.”
The arbitrator, Sheldon Stark found a “plausible conclusion that political considerations were at play” in the firing, especially when others with a direct role in Flint were not terminated. While Shektor-Stark faced charges of possible manslaughter and misconduct, these were pleaded down to a misdemeanor that disappeared in a deal with the special prosecutor.
Subsequently, in January 2021 it was reported by the Associated Press that “Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, his health director and other ex-officials have been told they’re being charged after a new investigation of the Flint water scandal” opening a whole new chapter that could find significantly higher state officials see serious legal consequences for Michigan’s shameful failure of the people of Flint.