October 13, 2016 (Fault Lines) — A resident of Flint, Michigan—a city still reeling from the lead-contamination crisis earlier this year—filed a complaint on Tuesday calling for a grand jury investigation into whether Gov. Rick Snyder illegally used $2 million in taxpayer money for his legal fees related to the disaster.
The complaint, filed Tuesday, alleges that the governor broke the law by violating conflict-of-interest prohibitions and “unilaterally” spending taxpayer money for personal benefit without the authority to do so. It requests that the Ingham County Circuit Court, based in Lansing, convene a one-judge grand jury to investigate.
Mark Brewer, a former chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party, held news conferences in Lansing and Flint Wednesday to announce the complaint against Snyder filed on behalf of Flint resident Keri Webber, who said taxpayers should not have to foot the bill for the governor’s legal defense.
Our governor, Rick Snyder, has taken $2 million to defend himself. That $2 million could do so much good in Flint.
Webber said her husband, her two daughters, and her pets have all suffered crippling health problems because of chronic exposure to Flint’s lead-contaminated water. Her 16-year-old daughter was found to have lead lines in her bones in 2015, her 21-year-old daughter contracted Legionnaires’ disease that same year, and her husband has lost vision in one eye because of high blood pressure, all linked to the lead in the water.
“And now, we’re paying for the defense of the very man at the center of the whole issue,” she said, “and, to me, that is unacceptable, and unconscionable.”
The Associated Press eports:
The Republican governor has approved two contracts for outside Flint-related legal services worth $3.4 million, including $2 million for “records management issues and investigations” and $1.4 million going to Barris, Sott, Denn & Driker, a Detroit firm providing civil law defense.
Anna Heaton, a spokeswoman for Snyder, said “due to the amount of legal work required, it was necessary to retain outside counsel to assist lawyers from the Attorney General’s Office in responses to lawsuits and large-scale document production,” and “since these lawsuits are brought against the office of the governor in an official capacity, it is legally sound to use public dollars to respond to them.”
According to the complaint, the Detroit News reports, “Snyder did not have the proper legal authority to enter into the contract and violated a constitutional prohibition against public officials engaging in transactions that create a conflict of interest.”
Simply put, the Governor has no legal authority to single-handedly approve public funds for his own private criminal defense.
“It’s one more salt in the wound. …He’s taking our money to pay for his legal defense,” Webber told the Associated Press in a phone interview. “That money should be going back into the city of Flint. It should be going back into medical care, psychological care, all of these things.”
According to advocacy group Progress Michigan, Webber was forced to file the suit because Attorney General Bill Schuette failed in his capacity.
“Public money should be going to help the families in Flint get their pipes replaced and attain other desperately needed services due to the Flint Water Crisis. It should not be assisting our multi-millionaire governor who is responsible for the crisis shield himself from accountability,” said Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan.
Judges in the Ingham County Circuit Court will vote on whether to go ahead with an investigation, and name a one-judge grand jury.
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