LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Thousands of emails newly released by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder provide a behind-scenes look at how his administration tried to manage the Flint water crisis.
Some provide story lines on his administration’s ineffectiveness in dealing with the issue, while thousands more are duplicative and dull. Others expose staffers’ frustrations as the crisis spiraled out of control after the lead contamination issue was uncovered in September.
Here’s a glimpse into the inboxes of Snyder’s administration:
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“This is a public relations crisis — because of a real or perceived problem is irrelevant — waiting to explode nationally,” predicted Ari Adler, special projects manager, in January 2015.
WHERE’S THE EXIT?
The strain on Snyder’s inner circle was becoming evident by last fall. In an Oct. 1 reply to senior adviser Dick Posthumus about scheduling a meeting, former Chief of Staff Dennis Muchmore lamented that he’d already met with two people the previous night, “Flint ministers this morning, Rep. (Sheldon) Neeley at 11:00, our entire group at 10, (then-Flint Mayor) Dayne Walling at 4:00 and (chief deputy treasurer Tom) Saxton at 4:30 all on Flint…help…get me out of this mess.”
LEAD UN-AWARENESS WEEK
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared Oct. 25-31 national Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, but Snyder’s staff opted out of issuing a proclamation.
“Given recent events I am not sure this is something we want to be issuing,” wrote Laura Stoken, Snyder’s manager of constituent relations.
GET OUT THERE
The communications staff discussed in Oct. 6 emails that Snyder should be more visible in Flint to show he cares.
Then-communications director Jarrod Agen (now chief of staff) wrote: “Don’t forward or spread this around, but give me your take. I think we may need to get G into Flint this week. Unpublicized, but public. Filter distribution, testing visit, discussion with Superintendent, etc… (And probably again next week.)”
Then-Press Secretary David Murray responded: “I think this is a good idea. One thing we keep hearing is that the governor is not involved or is detached … This would be good to show he’s there and cares. And if we don’t announce until he’s there we can avoid the protests — and still get the optics.”
CELEBRITY TWEET TRASHED
Documentary filmmaker and Flint native Michael Moore tweeted in December for Snyder to be recalled, arrested and imprisoned for “poisoning the ppl left behind in Flint,” prompting this email from former communications director Meegan Holland: “The pot stirrer and attention whore.”
CRISIS FOR CHRISTMAS
The holiday season was no respite for the administration due to the release of a critical auditor’s report and a letter from a Snyder-appointed task force investigating the crisis that laid responsibility at the door of the state Department of Environmental Quality. Communications staffers grumbled as the story drew increasing media attention from The New York Times, the BBC and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow.
In a Dec. 21 email responding to an apparent lunch invitation, constituent relations manager Laura Stoken writes, “I’m hoping I can get (away) today — I am anticipating getting slammed” because of a Maddow program.
Separately, Stoken asked whether a form letter being sent to people who write to Snyder should be revised to respond to Maddow’s pointed coverage. Holland replied that Maddow has stirred up controversy but adds, “to answer all her inaccuracies would take more time than what you’d want to give.”
Also on Dec. 21, Murray sent a message to senior policy adviser Karen McPhee with the subject line, “Tell me if I was overacting to this,” referring to a radio report that mentions him. “You are not over-reacting,” McPhee responds, adding that the “first sentence is insulting … personal and professionally.” She also describes the report as “childish” and “very immature.”
NO SNYDER FOR YOU
When a New York Times reporter requested an interview with Snyder, Murray sought advice from others on Jan. 5: “Do you think there’s benefit in giving the New York Times 10 minutes on this issue? He’s going to write the story whether we are in it or not, and after the horribly one-sided Washington Post story, it might be helpful to get our side in a national publication.”
They ultimately decided to offer up a “surrogate,” but debated over who it should be.
DISCONTENT OVER DEQ DEPARTURE
Muchmore wasn’t happy about Michigan environmental director Dan Wyant being replaced due to the crisis. Muchmore said in a Dec. 29 email that Wyant was “one of the most exceptional directors in state government history over the last 40 years.”
Snyder accepted Wyant’s resignation as head of the Department of Environmental Quality after a task force said that agency was largely to blame for allowing Flint’s drinking water to become contaminated with lead.
WANTED: COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR
A local television reporter contacted the communications staff after Snyder accepted the resignations of Wyant and communications director Brad Wurfel.
“So I’m just throwing this out there but someone will need to answer questions. There are few people who know the story better than I do. (…) I know that it would be basically career suicide,” the reporter asked.
That same day, a communications director in another state agency emailed Holland to express interest in the same job. Holland wrote: “All I’m saying to potential candidates is think long and hard on whether your heart can stand the pressure of that job — you’ll have just about an entire city hating your guts before they even meet you.”
Schneider reported from Detroit. Associated Press reporters John Flesher in Traverse City, Michigan, and Tammy Webber in Fenton, Michigan, contributed to this report.