Problems in Detroit and Flint highlight rift over use of emergency managers

DETROIT - Darnell Earley didn't come up with the plan to channel corrosive river water into Flint's old lead-lined water pipes, causing a health emergency.

See Full Article

And he certainly can't be blamed for the Detroit school system's decaying facilities and wrecked finances, which have prompted teacher boycotts this month.

But the 64-year-old budget expert was in charge of Flint's city government and the Detroit schools at key points in their recent turmoil, and that has made him a focal point of anger about Gov. Rick Snyder's use of "emergency managers" to temporarily run public entities in Michigan that are hopelessly in debt.

Earley, who had a 40-year career in public administration in Michigan, was one of seven outside controllers appointed in the last five years to fix foundering cities or school districts, and he was clearly one of Snyder's go-to guys, getting two of the toughest cases in Flint and the Detroit schools.

In October 2013, he took over control of Flint, a majority black city of 100,000 north of Detroit where more than 40 per cent of the population was below the poverty line. He was the third of four managers sent in to cut costs and deal with the city's $13 million deficit.

Earley seemed like a perfect fit for the blue-collar city. He grew up as one of nine children in an African-American family in Muskegon Heights, a small community along Lake Michigan, the son of an auto factory worker and a homemaker. He worked his way through college at Grand Valley State University and earned a master's degree in public administration from Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo.

He also knew Flint. He worked as city administrator in 2001 and served a short stint as Flint's temporary mayor in 2002, as part of a career that also included a stint as city manager in Saginaw.

However, the personal connections didn't defuse the tension in seizing control of all fiscal decisions from locally elected officials.

"They don't listen to nobody," longtime Flint City Councilman Scott Kincaid said of emergency managers. "They don't care about the community. They just care about fixing the finances." Kincaid and others said the managers' tendency to ignore local complaints played a role in the water fiasco, since residents had complained about taste and colour of the water.

Whenever Flint City Council members wanted to speak with Earley, they would have to get appointments, said Councilman Wantwaz Davis.

"We couldn't just walk in his office," Davis said. "He's egotistical, very arrogant. Whenever he sets his mind to something, it's going in that direction."

Another emergency manager, Louis Schimmel, who temporarily ran the cities of Hamtramck, Ecorse and Pontiac, defended Earley, saying bruised feelings are unavoidable.

In a city like Flint, he said, "You're dealing with multiple problems and you don't have very much help."

During Earley's 16 months as Flint's emergency manager, the city went ahead with a plan to save money by switching its water supply from the Detroit system to a new pipeline consortium, and to use Flint River water until the new pipeline was ready. However, anti-corrosion agents were not added to the salty river water, causing metal leaching in city pipes and dangerously elevated lead levels among some residents. The state declared an emergency and began distributing bottled water.

Earley declined to speak to The Associated Press, but he defended his work Sunday on WDIV-TV.

"I don't look at it in terms of blame. ... I came along at a time when this project was already underway and it fell to me to oversee implementation of it," he said of using the river. "More facts like that need to be sought out instead of just trying to find someone or something to blame for it."

But some local officials say he shares in the responsibility.

"Darnell and the people in public works and finance in the city believed they could save between $6 million and $8 million. ... And this is what we've got because of that," said Kincaid, who has served on the city council for 30 years.

Snyder praised Earley when he announced his appointment as emergency manager for Detroit's schools a year ago. "Darnell Earley has a track record of success and can guide the district as we work collectively and collaboratively to turnaround the fiscal crisis and ensure a quality education for the city's school children that they need and deserve."

But teachers union officials say he hasn't responded well enough to their complaints about leaky roofs, rodents and mould in school buildings. Snyder has proposed a legislative bailout for the schools. Earley has said he understands teachers' frustrations, but criticized their organized sick-outs.

"He would say 'yeah, yeah,' but he never did anything to diffuse what was going on or showed teachers that he respected them," said Detroit Federation of Teachers President Ivy Bailey.

"You send Mr. Earley from Flint to Detroit. He mismanaged Flint and now he's mismanaged Detroit's schools," Bailey said. "That is horrific."



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Detective: Robert Durst's wife told neighbour of beating, threats

    World News Toronto Sun
    LOS ANGELES - The missing wife of New York real estate heir Robert Durst once told a neighbour that her husband had beat her and she feared he would kill her, a retired detective testified Tuesday. Source
  • 2 teen girls in custody after missing woman found dead in Manitoba First Nation

    Canada News CTV News
    FORT ALEXANDER, Man. -- Two teenaged girls have been charged in the death of a woman reported missing in Manitoba. RCMP say a 19-year-old woman from Powerview was last seen on Saturday. Police started searching on Sunday after she was reported missing and got a call later that day about a dead woman near a residence in the Sagkeeng First Nation. Source
  • No hint of resignation in Andrew Potter's apology to McGill principal, board members, documents show

    Canada News CBC News
    A day after his controversial article appeared in Maclean's, Andrew Potter sent an email to McGill's principal and board members of the university's Institute for the Study of Canada (MISC) expressing regret — but offering no indication he intended to resign. Source
  • P.E.I. says it's top in Canada when it comes to recycling and composting

    Canada News CTV News
    CHARLOTTETOWN - When it comes to recycling and composting, residents of Prince Edward Island can now boast they're the best in Canada. The P.E.I. government is citing newly released figures from Statistics Canada that show the province keeps more waste out of landfills, per person, than anywhere else in the country. Source
  • Sexual assault survivors to get free legal advice under new N.L. program

    Canada News CTV News
    ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - Sexual assault survivors can obtain free, independent legal advice under a new program in Newfoundland and Labrador funded by the federal government. Federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould was in St. Source
  • Dancing humanoid robot rolls in to Calgary banks

    Canada News CBC News
    The next time you walk into an ATB branch, you could be greeted by a four foot tall, dancing humanoid robot named Pepper. The companion robot, created by Softbank Robotics America, is the first of its kind capable of recognizing human emotion, and this is Pepper's first foray into the Canadian market. Source
  • Witness chokes back tears describing hit-and-run death at Calgary gas station

    Canada News CTV News
    CALGARY -- A woman who witnessed the hit-and-run death of a Calgary gas station worker in 2015 choked back tears Tuesday as she described the incident. Joshua Cody Mitchell, 22, is on trial facing several charges including second-degree murder in an incident at a Centex gas station in June 2015. Source
  • Deported illegal accused of raping sleeping girl, 9

    World News Toronto Sun
    An illegal Mexican immigrant who was booted from the U.S. 16 years ago is accused of sneaking back into the country and raping a nine-year-old girl as she slept. Cops say Santiago Martinez-Flores, 48, broke in through the little girl’s window in Clackamas, Oregon and sexually assaulted her. Source
  • United ranked worst for customer satisfaction

    World News Toronto Sun
    United Airlines was hitting turbulence with customers even before its spectacular PR debacle in Chicago two weeks ago. A new survey from the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) of frequent fliers ranked the airline as worst among its peers. Source
  • Wild bison calves born in Banff National Park 'a huge step' to reintroduction

    Canada News CBC News
    Bison recently introduced into Banff's backcountry are settling into their new homes by welcoming new offspring to the herd. Parks Canada says it's the first time wild bison calves have been born in Banff's backcountry in 140 years. Source