DETROIT (AP) – Michigan said Friday that it agreed to pay $ 300,000 to settle claims for illegal discharges by the only employee who was fired over lead-contaminated water in Flint.
The deal with Liane Schecter Smith, who was the head of the state’s drinking water department, came weeks after an arbiter said she was mistakenly fired in 2016 by officials who were likely looking for a “public scapegoat” during one worst environmental disasters in the United States. history.
READ MORE: How isolation and neglect left Benton Harbor Michigan with toxic water
This week the state had a deadline to appeal the order through the civil service system, as well as an award of $ 191,880 in arrears and other compensation. Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s administration instead paid Sheckter Smith 56% more to close the case.
“The Department has decided to agree to a $ 300,000 settlement amount that will resolve the dispute and allow the agency and Ms. Schecter Smith to move forward,” said Hugh McDiarmid Jr., a spokesman for the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy. …
When asked why the state pays more, McDiarmid replied that there are no guarantees that the arbiter will remain in the figure during the appeal.
Schecter Smith claimed more than $ 900,000 in compensation for the loss.
“The condition of the settlement is that she will not look for work back. And her involuntary resignation will be replaced with a voluntary one, ”he told The Associated Press, declining to comment further.
In 2014–2015, Flint’s water was drawn from the Flint River, a money-saving decision made by government-appointed managers who ran the ailing city. The highly corrosive water was not properly treated before reaching the roughly 100,000 residents, eroding the protective coating inside the aging pipes. As a result, lead escaped from these pipes.
By the fall of 2015, a local doctor and other experts had sounded the alarm about rising lead levels, especially in children and then the government. The Rick Snyder administration has finally acknowledged the crisis in Flint.
The Environmental Quality Department was heavily criticized for not requiring corrosion protection additives when Flint switched water sources. Experts at the agency insisted that the results of the 12-month water sampling were needed first, despite worrisome early lead readings and protests by angry residents who held back the dirty water containers.
Some critics said the disaster at large – Black Flint was an example of environmental racism.
Keith Krieg, who fired Sheckter Smith, testified during an arbitration hearing last spring.
He fired her in 2016, shortly after taking control at Snyder’s request.
“I have not found a record of how Ms. Scheckter-Smith, as they would say, threw the flag. To say that this is important. Flint residents used lead in their water. We need more help, ”Krieg said, according to the transcript.
But referee Sheldon Stark came to a “plausible political conclusion” in the sacking, especially after others directly playing in Flint were not fired.
Shector Smith’s lawyer, Brian Morley, said she was grateful to the arbiter for the report.
“Someone said she was doing her job,” Morley told AP. “There was no smoking gun. … Liane always said, “I wish this hadn’t happened in Flint.” She is a compassionate lady.
Schecter Smith told the arbiter that she relied on her field staff to make critical decisions about Flint’s water system.
“This is a public water system that is clearly having some problems,” she said, referring to 2014, the first year of the Flint River’s use.
“I make sure I was kept informed, I keep my management informed, but there were a lot of other things going on in the office at that time.”
After being fired, Schecter Smith was charged with misconduct and neglect. She was also warned that a manslaughter case would be filed because bacteria in the water have been linked to a deadly outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease.
But in 2019, the charges were dropped in exchange for refusing to challenge the unclear offense. The case was closed a year later by agreement with Special Attorney Todd Flood.