Flint's residents, many of whom experienced serious medical problems, including a lethal outbreak of Legionnaire’s Disease, may be able to take part in a multimillion-dollar civil settlement, but the question of accountability remains. That's why many were heartened by the news Thursday that criminal charges were being filed against Governor Rick Snyder and other state officials for their parts in the water crisis. We wanted to check in with the man currently leading Flint right now about what all this means for his community.
Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley says he is appeased by the charges filed against Governor Snyder and other state officials. He says these charges are monumental and set an important example when it comes to holing public officials accountable for the harm done during the water crisis.
“I think moreover, what this says, is that no one is above the law. Where a former governor can be charged with crimes through their tenure of servitude,” Neeley said. “So this is a very very big resounding type of charge.”
On Thursday, Snyder pleaded not guilty to two counts of willful neglect of duty— a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison and/or a $1,000 fine. While felony charges were brought against several of Snyder’s former aides, some Flint residents are not content with the misdemeanor charges brought against him. Mayor Neeley believes that this needs to be a time of communion for the community of Flint. But as a resident of the city himself, he understands the frustration of his neighbors.
“Before I was mayor of this community, I’m a resident of this community. I live here. My mother, my children, my wife and I— we’re residents also,” Neeley said. “But yes, it’s important to me to make sure that people are held culpable for the crimes that or potential crimes that could have been committed against this community.”
Federal Judge Judith Levy has yet to approve a $641 million settlement for the residents of Flint. The total settlement amount is pending, and Mayor Neeley said he thinks the number will likely rise.
The funds will go to those who have suffered loss of life and irreversible health damage because of lead-tainted water. Mayor Neeley said that the settlement will be a step forward for families affected, but emphasized that, “there’s no amount of money that’s enough” to make up for the damage done— particularly when it comes to children who will be dealing with the consequences of the lead-tainted water for the rest of their lives.
This post was written by Stateside production assistant Catherine Nouhan.