Flint, Michigan – A Cautionary Tale

Go Lean Commentary

In a previous commentary ranking American State governing engines, the overall scores were listed from Good-to-Bad-to-Worse-to-Detroit (Michigan). The State of Michigan, in which Detroit is its principal city and economic center, was ranked “dead last” among the 50 states. This was not an assessment of city governments but rather of state governments. But is it fair to label the entire State of Michigan based on the dysfunction of just the one city of Detroit?

Enter Exhibit 2: Flint, Michigan.

Encyclopedic Reference: Flint, Michigan
Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flint,_Michigan

CU Blog - Flint, Michigan - A cautionary tale - Photo 1Flint is the seventh largest city in Michigan, while its Genesee County comprises the entirety of Flint’s metropolitan area and constitutes the fourth largest metropolitan area in Michigan with a population of 425,790 in 2010.[11]. Located along the Flint River, 66 miles (106 km) northwest of Detroit.

The community was founded as a village by fur traders in the early 1800’s and became a major lumbering area on the historic Saginaw Trail during the 19th century; it incorporated as a city in 1855. It later became a leading manufacturer of carriages and other vehicles earning it the nickname “Vehicle City”.

In 1908, William Crapo Durant formed General Motors in Flint. After World War II, Flint became an automobile manufacturing powerhouse for GM’s Buick and Chevrolet divisions, both of which were founded in Flint. However, by the late 1980s the city sank into a deep economic depression after GM closed and demolished several factories in the area, the effects of which remain today.

In the mid-2000s, it became known for its high crime rates.[12] Since this time, Flint has been ranked among the “Most Dangerous Cities in the United States”, with a per capita violent crime rate seven times higher than the national average.[13] The city was under a state of financial emergency from 2011 to 2015, the second in a decade.[14][15] It is currently in a public health state of emergency due to lead poisoning (and possibly Legionella) in the local water supply. [16]

On November 3, 2015, Flint residents elected Dr. Karen Weaver as their first female mayor.[17]

[This move is on the heels of the exit of the last State-appointed Emergency Manager].

CU Blog - Pressed by Debt Crisis, Doctors Leave Greece in Droves - Photo 1

Flint serves as a “cautionary tale” for other communities near “Failed City/Failed State” status. From this perspective, this community may be a valuable asset to the rest of the world and especially to the Caribbean.

CU Blog - Flint, Michigan - A cautionary tale - Photo 3The publishers of the book Go Lean…Caribbean are here in Detroit to “observe and report” the turn-around and rebirth of the once-great-but-now-distressed City of Detroit and its metropolitan areas, including Flint. (Previous commentaries featured the positive role model of the City of Ann Arbor).

What happened here?

According to the Timeline in the Appendix, Flint, MI suffered this fate as a chain reaction to its Failed-State status. Outside stakeholders – Emergency Managers – came into the equation to execute a recovery plan with focus only on the Bottom-Line. The consideration for people – the Greater Good – came second, if at all. They switched water sources, unwisely!

The assertion of the Go Lean book is that the Caribbean region can benefit from lessons learned from Good, Bad and Ugly governance. The book serves as a roadmap for the introduction and implementation of the technocratic Caribbean Union Trade Federation (CU). The Go Lean book and related commentaries call on citizens of the Caribbean member-states to lean-in to the empowerments described in the roadmap for elevation. This will require a constant vigil to ensure the Greater Good as opposed to personal gains.

The City of Flint is desperately in need of governing “best practice”. The Financial Emergency Status that just ended, 2011 to April 2015, was the 2nd one in a decade; (the first was from 2002 to 2005). Every time the city is penalized with the advent of a state-appointed Emergency Manager (EM), they lose out on a local stakeholder pursuing the city’s best-interest, rather the EM’s serve as a Receiver (without the formal Bankruptcy proceedings, which is a Federal not State action).

This is highlighted by the current Health Emergency due to the City’s switch of their water source to the Flint River – a contaminated source – and now endangering the health and wellness of many of its citizens; with the most damaging effects being on young children. That decision was made by the Emergency Manager to save money, as opposed to the community’s best interest. There is no checks-and-balances on the EM, other than the appointing Governor (and courts), as the EM has both Executive (Mayor) and legislative authority (City Council).

Absolute power …

… see example here:

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder appointed Michael Brown as the city’s Emergency Manager on November 29, effective December 1.[37] On December 2, Brown dismissed a number of top administrators including City Administrator Gregory Eason, Human Resources Director Donna Poplar, Citizen Services Director Rhoda Woods, Green City Coordinator Steve Montle and independent officials including Ombudswoman Brenda Purifoy and Civil Service Commission Director Ed Parker. Pay and benefits from Flint’s elected officials were automatically removed.[38] On December 8, the office of Obudsman and the Civil Service Commission were eliminated by Brown.[36] Brown resigned in September 2013 and was replaced by Darnell Earley, who served in that post until January 2015 – Retrieved January 18, 2016 from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flint,_Michigan#First_financial_emergency:_2002.E2.80.932004

Now, the report is that this one EM role-player has effectively sacrificed the children of Flint on the altar of financial expedience. This is a bad example of absolute power exhibited abusively. See details here:

In April 2014, Flint switched its water supply from Lake Huron (via Detroit) to the Flint River. [51] After two independent studies, lead poisoning caused by the water was found in the area’s population. [52][53] This has lead to a federal lawsuit, the resignation of several officials, and a public health state of emergency for all of Genesee County. [54][55][56]

CU Blog - Flint, Michigan - A cautionary tale - Photo 2

See VIDEO here of the story in the national media and the Timeline in the Appendix below.

VIDEO – Citizens’ Anger Continues Over Toxic Water in Flint, Michigan – http://abcnews.go.com/WNT/video/citizens-anger-continues-toxic-water-flint-michigan-36348795

Surprise, surprise! Most city officials involved in this debacle had been dismissed or resigned. And there is national outcry for Governor Rick Snyder to resign. (At one point his stock in national politics was so highly rated that he was considered viable for the Vice-Presidency for the eventual 2016 Republican nominee for President).

This tragic story – cautionary tale of Flint – is an analysis of failure in the societal engines of economics, security and governance. These 3 facets are presented in the book Go Lean … Caribbean as the three-fold cord for societal harmony; for any society anywhere. The Caribbean wants societal harmony; we must therefore work to optimize all these three engines. As exhibited by Flint, this is easier said than done. This heavy-lifting is described in the book as both an art and a science.

The focus in this commentary is a continuation in the study of the societal engine of governance; previously, there was a series on economics and one on security. This commentary though, focuses on the bad eventually of Social Contract failures. The Social Contract refers to the unspoken expectations between citizens and the State. In many cases, State laws limit ownership of all mineral rights to the State; so citizens will be dependent on State systems to supply water. In the case of Flint, the City’s Water and Sewage Department has a monopoly; this supply is the only option for residents!

The Go Lean book describes “bad actors” wreaking havoc on the peace and security of the community. The book relates though that “bad actors” are not always human; they include bad events like natural disasters and industrial spills. Plus, actual “bad actors” may have started out with altruistic motives, good intentions. This is why the book and accompanying blogs design the organization structures for the new Caribbean with checks-and-balances, mandating a collaborative process, because sometimes even a well-intentioned individual may not have all the insight, hindsight and foresight necessary to pursue the Greater Good. This the defect of the Michigan Emergency Manager structure; it assigns too much power to just one person, bypassing the benefits of a collaborative process. This is one reason why this review is important: power corrupts…everyone … everywhere.

The Go Lean book asserts that Caribbean people deserve the best-of-the-best for governmental processes, and that Caribbean society – the 30 member-states – can be elevated with the prudent application of these best-practices for economics, security and governance. The roadmap features these 3 prime directives:

  • Optimization of the economic engines in order to grow the regional economy to $800 Billion & create 2.2 million new jobs.
  • Establishment of a security apparatus – with oversight over economic crimes – to protect the resultant economic engines.
  • Improvement of Caribbean governance to support these engines, including ranking and ratings of Social Contract effectiveness.

The City of Flint, Michigan is a cautionary tale for the Caribbean. We can glean lessons from their dysfunction and apply mitigations in our Caribbean effort, the CU/Go Lean roadmap. This point was strongly urged in the Go Lean book, in the opening Declaration of Interdependence (Pages 10 & 12) with these pronouncements:

Preamble: And while our rights to exercise good governance and promote a more perfect society are the natural assumptions among the powers of the earth, no one other than ourselves can be held accountable for our failure to succeed if we do not try to promote the opportunities that a democratic society fosters … and so we must put aside the shackles of systems of repression to instead formulate efficient and effective systems to steer our own destiny.

xii. Whereas the legacy in recent times in individual states may be that of ineffectual governance with no redress to higher authority, the accedence of this Federation will ensure accountability and escalation of the human and civil rights of the people for good governance, justice assurances, due process and the rule of law. As such, any threats of a “failed state” status for any member state must enact emergency measures on behalf of the Federation to protect the human, civil and property rights of the citizens, residents, allies, trading partners, and visitors of the affected member state and the Federation as a whole.

xxxiii. Whereas lessons can be learned and applied from the study of the recent history of other societies, the Federation must formalize statutes and organizational dimensions to avoid the pitfalls of communities like … Detroit …

The Go Lean book details all the community ethos to ensure the right attitudes and practices among the government stakeholders and leaders of the community. Plus the book identifies the strategies, tactics, implementations and advocacies to promote collaboration in the governing process:

Economic Principle – Economic Systems Influence Individual Choices Page 21
Economic Principle – Consequences of Choices Lie in Future Page 21
Community Ethos – Security Principle – Privacy –vs- Public Protection Page 23
Community Ethos – Security Principle – Whistleblower Protection Page 23
Community Ethos – Security Principle – Witness Security & Protection Page 23
Community Ethos – Security Principle – Anti-Bullying and Mitigation Page 23
Community Ethos – Security Principle – Intelligence Gathering Page 23
Community Ethos – Security Principle – Light Up the Dark Places – Openness Page 23
Community Ethos – Governing Principle – Minority Equalization Page 24
Community Ethos – Governing Principle – Cooperatives Among Member-States Page 25
Community Ethos – Ways to Foster Genius – Interpersonal; Leadership Page 27
Community Ethos – Ways to Manage Reconciliations Page 34
Community Ethos – Ways to Improve Sharing Page 35
Community Ethos – Ways to Impact the Greater Good Page 37
Tactical – Confederating a Non-Sovereign Union Page 63
Tactical – Fostering a Technocracy Page 64
Tactical – Separation of Powers – Justice Department – Jurisdiction for Public Integrity cases. Page 77
Tactical – Separation of Powers – Federal Courts – Truth and Reconciliation Commissions Page 90
Implementation – Assemble “Organs” – including Regional Courts and Justice Institutions Page 96
Implementation – Start-up Security Initiatives Page 103
Planning – Ways to Make the Caribbean Better Page 131
Planning – Ways to Improve Failed-State Indices – Accountability  of Governing Officials Page 134
Planning – Lessons from the US Constitution – Checks and Balances Page 145
Advocacy – Ways to Grow the Economy Page 151
Advocacy – Ways to Improve Governance Page 168
Advocacy – Ways to Better Manage the Social Contract Page 170
Advocacy – Ways to Improve Leadership Page 171
Appendix – Lessons Learned in Open/Collaborative Government – Floating the Trinidad Dollar Page 316

Other subjects related to collaboration, whistle-blowing and public integrity have been blogged in other Go Lean…Caribbean commentary, as sampled here:

http://www.goleancaribbean.com/blog/?p=6965 Secrecy, corruption and conflicts of interest pervade state governments
http://www.goleancaribbean.com/blog/?p=6937 Women in Politics – Yes, They Can!
http://www.goleancaribbean.com/blog/?p=5506 Whistleblower Edward Snowden – One Person Making a Difference
http://www.goleancaribbean.com/blog/?p=5304 Mitigating the Eventual ‘Abuse of Power’
http://www.goleancaribbean.com/blog/?p=5002 Managing a ‘Clear and Present Danger’
http://www.goleancaribbean.com/blog/?p=2994 Justice Strategy: Special Prosecutors … et al
http://www.goleancaribbean.com/blog/?p=2818 Dominican Republic, Perception of Corruption
http://www.goleancaribbean.com/blog/?p=2338 Welcoming the Dreaded ‘Plutocracy’

The goal of the Go Lean roadmap is to make the Caribbean homeland, a better place to live, work and play. Many of the Caribbean member-state governments feature the Westminster-style Parliamentary system with a Prime Minister. These structures lend to the tendency of autocratic leadership, as a Prime Minister leads his party, the Legislature, Executive branch and appoint the judges of the Judiciary. As demonstrated in Flint Michigan, this is not the best practice in leadership, as there are many subject matters that may be outside the core competence of an autocratic leader.

We must do better, than Flint! (Flint must do better; too many lives are involved).

We know that “bad actors and bad incidences” will always occur, even in government institutions, so we must be “on guard” against abusive influences and encroachments to Failed-State status. The Go Lean roadmap calls for engagement and participation from everyone, the people (citizens), institutions and government officials alike. We encouraged all with benevolent motives to lean-in to this roadmap, to get involved to effect a turnaround for the Caribbean Failed-States.

Our Caribbean stakeholders deserve the best … from their leaders.  🙂

Download the free e-Book of Go Lean … Caribbean – now!


Appendix – Timeline of the Water Crisis in Flint, Michigan
By: Associated Press – Jan 16, 2016, 3:18 PM ET

A look at some of the key events in the development of the Flint water crisis:


APRIL 2014: In an effort to save money, Flint begins drawing its water from the Flint River instead of relying on water from Detroit. The move is considered temporary while the city waits to connect to a new regional water system. Residents immediately complain about the smell, taste and appearance of the water. They also raise health concerns, reporting rashes, hair loss and other problems.

SUMMER 2014: Three boil-water advisories are issued in 22 days after positive tests for coliform bacteria.

OCTOBER 2014: A General Motors engine plant stops using Flint water, saying it rusts parts.

JANUARY 2015: Flint seeks an evaluation of its efforts to improve the water amid concerns that it contains potentially harmful levels of a disinfection byproduct. Detroit offers to reconnect Flint to its water system. Flint insists its water is safe.

JAN. 28: Flint residents snap up 200 cases of bottled water in 30 minutes in a giveaway program. More giveaways will follow in ensuing months.

FEB. 3: State officials pledge $2 million for Flint’s troubled water system.

FEBRUARY: A 40-member advisory committee is formed to address concerns over Flint’s water. Mayor Dayne Walling says the committee will ensure the community is involved in the issue.

MARCH 19: Flint promises to spend $2.24 million on immediate improvements to its water supply.

MARCH 27: Flint officials say the quality of its water has improved and that testing finds the water meets all state and federal standards for safety.

SEPT. 24: A group of doctors led by Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha of HurleyMedicalCenter urges Flint to stop using the Flint River for water after finding high levels of lead in the blood of children. State regulators insist the water is safe.

SEPT. 29: Gov. Rick Snyder pledges to take action in response to the lead levels. It’s the first acknowledgment by the state that lead is a problem.

OCT. 2: Snyder announces that the state will spend $1 million to buy water filters and test water in Flint public schools.

OCT. 8: Snyder calls for Flint to go back to using water from Detroit’s system again.

OCT. 15: The Michigan Legislature and Snyder approve nearly $9.4 million in aid to Flint, including $6 million to help switch its drinking water back to Detroit. The legislation also includes money for water filters, inspections and lab testing.

NOV. 3: Voters elect newcomer Karen Weaver over incumbent Mayor Dayne Walling amid fallout over the drinking water.

DEC. 29: Snyder accepts the resignation of Department of Environmental Quality Director Dan Wyant and apologizes for what occurred in Flint.

JAN. 5: Snyder declares a state of emergency in Flint, the same day federal officials confirm that they are investigating.

JAN. 12: Snyder activates the Michigan National Guard to help distribute bottled water and filters in Flint and asks the federal government for help.

JAN. 13: Michigan health officials report an increase in Legionnaires’ disease cases during periods over the past two years in the county that includes Flint.

JAN. 14: Snyder asks the Obama administration for major disaster declaration and more federal aid.

JAN. 16: President Barack Obama signs emergency declaration and orders federal aid for Flint, authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Homeland Security to coordinate relief efforts.

Source: http://abcnews.go.com/Health/wireStory/timeline-water-crisis-flint-michigan-36331514; retrieved Jan 18, 2016

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