A spokesman for Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder said Thursday that a law firm that was hired to help him deal with the criminal probes over the Flint water crisis, will focus mostly on going through and processing the emails and state documents that have been sought by investigators. The announcement comes as the governor released 4,400 pages of emails and documents of his executive office related to the crisis that showed that several of Snyder’s aides warned of “big potential disasters” because of switching the source of water to Flint River too quickly.
Snyder’s spokesman Ari Adler said that the Warner, Norcross & Judd of Grand Rapids, which is being paid up to $800,000, will search and process and produce “large quantities” of emails and documents. “They are highly skilled at doing that. They have the ability and resources,” Adler said, according to the Associated Press (AP).
Another contract has been signed with Detroit-based Barris, Sott, Denn & Driker, worth up to $400,000, so that three attorneys can serve as special assistant attorneys general, who will provide advice and represent Snyder in federal, state, local and civil probes and lawsuits. The details were first reported by Detroit Free Press, after Snyder’s office announced that it needs up to $1.2 million, which will be paid with public money.
The latest emails and documents from Snyder is the third voluntary release of such records. It shows that an employee from Snyder’s Office of Urban Initiatives warned against the rush to switch Flint's water source from Detroit-area system to Flint River in 2014. However, without proper corrosion-control chemicals, water from the new source caused lead to leach into the water supply.
Brian Larkin, the staffer, wrote in a memo sent to several employees on March 14, 2014, that the city’s water treatment plant need to be prepared and the deadline to submit bids to do the work was “putting a strain on the willingness of qualified vendors to participate.” He added: “The expedited timeframe is less than ideal and could lead to some big potential disasters down the road,” according to the AP.
Adler said that Larkin dealt with several cities including Flint and is no longer associated with the governor’s office. The memo was added to a calendar appointment notice emailed to several top aides of Snyder, although Adler reportedly said that his warning referred to the potential problems with operating the treatment plant and not the failure to add anti-corrosive treatments.
Before the switch was made, Mike Glasgow, a former supervisor at the plant and presently the city's utilities administrator, also complained through an email of not getting enough time to train employees.
Last month, a report by Detroit Free Press cited Glasgow as saying in an email to Michigan Department of Environmental Quality official Mike Prysby: “I do not anticipate giving the OK to begin sending water out any time soon. ... If water is distributed from this plant in the next couple of weeks, it will be against my direction. I need time to adequately train additional staff and to update our monitoring plans before I will feel we are ready.”
“I have people above me making plans to distribute water ASAP,” Glasgow added.
A report by Detroit Free Press said in February that nearly 90 people in Genesee County contracted the Legionnaires disease between April 2014 and June 2014, when Flint started using water from the river. Ten of the cases were fatal although no links between the water and the disease-causing bacteria have been confirmed yet. However, public health officials have named the Flint water supply as a key suspect in the case.
Investigations are underway over whether Snyder and other officials knew the potential dangers of the water that was being released to the city’s taps and a possible connection to the Legionnaire’s disease, before they alerted the public. There is a possibility that local authorities could be criminally charged in the case.