Thank you for

My short bio: I'm a veteran journalist who was hired by the ACLU of Michigan to investigate the state's radical Emergency manager law, which takes away the power of locally elected officials and allows a state appointee to take complete control of financially troubled school districts and cities.

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Thank you for your questions, redditors! Follow my investigative journalism wor for the ACLU of Michigan at

Comments: 115 • Responses: 36  • Date: 

elivnewm11 karma

Hello Curt! Congrats on your "Journalist of the Year" award! It's well deserved. What tips do you have for young reporters?

ACLU_Michigan8 karma

I was talking with some journalism students last night. I brought up Joseph Cambell's quote: Follow your bliss and doors will open where you never knew doors existed." My job here at the ACLU of Michigan is proof of that.

budmack9 karma

Are you looking for proof that this was a malicious act as opposed to a negligent one? It seems that the state government knew (or should have known) that they were poisoning a poor community in what I can only assume was an attempt to remove it.

ACLU_Michigan13 karma

There is some middle ground between malicious and simply negligent, and that is "gross negligence." Public officials are protected if they are simply negligent, but gross negligence is not a protected offense.

budmack1 karma

Thank you for responding to my question. I will rephrase it in the hopes that you answer it.

Which methods are you using to investigate this as a criminal act as opposed to simple negligence?

ACLU_Michigan9 karma

Not being a member of the law enforcement community, I do not have the authority to conduct a criminal investigation. it is up to others to determine if laws have been broken -- though I think some were. But that is not my call to make. I'm just continuing to investigate, trying to get answer to a number of questions that remain unanswered. the U.S. Department of Justice, and the Michigan Attorney General's office are investigating. But, as I said, those are under way, and nothing is yet known regarding their findings.

beancounter28857 karma

What's your take on the revelation that parts of Michigan and other parts of the country are worse than Flint?

ACLU_Michigan9 karma

The state of Michigan has testing protocols that are deliberately designed to minimize the amount of lead found. so, things are worse every where in Michigan than what the state is claiming. But, also they did certain things in Flint that were outright violations of the law in order to skew tests low. And when they make comparisons, they are using those completely invalid Flint results. So I don't know if it is worse elsewhere or not. But the real issue is, how dangerous is the water because of lead. And it is not just Michigan -- this is a nationwide concern, because a number of states are exploiting loopholes in the law in order to minimize the lead results and avoid the expense of having to replace lead service lines if they are over the federal action level of 15 parts per billion lead.

kinvore1 karma

Can the Governor, the "city manager" that he appointed, and anyone that skewered the lead readings early on be held on some kind of charges by the Federal government?

ACLU_Michigan6 karma

Quite possible. The Justice Department is currently investigating.

Luna_LoveWell7 karma

Has anyone (water companies, the emergency managers, the Governor's office, etc.) tried to discredit you personally in response to your story? What did they do/say?

ACLU_Michigan9 karma

Actually, I expected them to do that. But it hasn't happened so far. And, who knows, maybe they can try and discredit me. Although I've heard the governor's spokesman is tellnig some journalists that I'm not a "journalist," in an attempt to take a swipe at my credibility.But they cannot discredit the facts, which are largely built on government documents that the ACLU of Michigan has obtained.

TheNotoriousMAZ6 karma

Most of your focus has certainly been with Flint, but what do you think is the next important subject within the state needs to be regarding the emergency manager legislation?

I've seen the plight of schools in Detroit, but I think the most tragic effect is the disenfranchisement of millions of voters.

ACLU_Michigan7 karma

Up until Flint, I thought Detroit Public Schools was the most egregious example of the EM law failure. Last time I looked, the district was more than $500,000,000 million deeper in debt than when the state took over. I'll leave it to others to decide what needs to be done to the law. My job is to reveal its impact. In Flint, that impact was the contamination of a city's water supply and the lead poisoning of its residents.

ishabad6 karma

Is this an issue of racial segregation?

ACLU_Michigan6 karma

Thank you so much for bringing up that question. A majority of Flint's residents are African American, as is the case in towns throughout Michigan that have been taken over by Emergency Managers. so the issue of racism needs to be at the forefront of the conversation. So too does the issue of class, because these cities all have very high numbers of poor people -- not all of whom are black. In Flint, for example, 40% of the population lives below the poverty line. So it is a race issue, and a class issue. And it is an issue of denying people the fundamental democratic rights people elsewhere in America take for granted.

monsterlynn1 karma

Don't you feel it's really more of a voting block issue? Most of the cities that have been placed under an Emergency Manager historically have voted Democrat. It seems like the Emergency Manager law is being used as a double-whammy to disenfranchise not just Black voters, but Democrat voters.

ACLU_Michigan4 karma

That has certainly been a consequence of the way the law has been applied.

Frajer6 karma

What exactly happened to make Flint as bad as it is ?

ACLU_Michigan8 karma

First was the decision, made while the city was under state control, to switch from the Detroit system, which had been providing clean, safe water for 50 years, to the highly corrosive Flint River. Compounding the problem was the state's inexplicable decision not to use corrosion control chemicals. That caused lead particles from old pipes to leach into the drinking water going into people's homes.

superkbf4 karma

Could you explain this decision: why switch from the Detroit system if it was still working? And what kind of due diligence was done (wrt the Flint River system) before the switch was made?

ACLU_Michigan9 karma

It was a purely economically driven decision. the state claimed $5 million would be saved. Part of the tragic irony here is that the final costs could extend into the billions to try and repair the damage to infrastructure and help the kids who have been permanently damaged by this horrible decision to make the people of Flint drink Flint River water.

Plato_Karamazov6 karma

What is the federal government doing to alleviate this crisis? Is there any discussion of legal consequences for Snyder's administration?

ACLU_Michigan5 karma

A class action lawsuit has been filed naming the governor as a defendant. More class action suits will almost certainly follow. the ACLU of Michigan, along with the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a suit in an attempt to assure that the proper steps are taken to protect people gong forward. so, the courts are gong to have a lot on their dockets regarding this issue for a long time to come.

WalkingTurtleMan3 karma

And a follow up question: what can be done to fix it?

ACLU_Michigan7 karma

In October, Gov. Rick Snyder allowed Flint to return to the Detroit system. Also, the proper corrosion control is now being applied. But the infrastructure damage was so extensive, it is taking a while to try and make the water clean and safe. But the question is, do all the lead service lines leading to homes have to be replaced? That is a pretty hot debate going on right now.

dicks1jo4 karma

Not to mention potential damage to home plumbing. I've been looking at purchasing my first home in Flint (live in Davison now but Flint makes an amazing starting off point for a field service technician who could be commuting to anywhere in the eastern half of the state) and now I'm budgeting around the assumption that I'll end up replacing every bit of copper/iron pipe in whatever house I buy to replace it with PEX.

ACLU_Michigan6 karma

That is definitely a legitimate concern. I can't tell you how badly plumbing in a particular home may have been damaged. Some people used whole-house filters, but that didn't stop the corrosion from wrecking havoc. On the other hand, a lot of homes, as with homes in Detroit, have their plumbing stripped by scrappers, so it might be an expense you would have to incur anyway.

monsterlynn5 karma

What do you feel, realistically, will be the outcome of investigations/civil suits? Is there any hope that Governor Snyder and the Emergency Managers will be held accountable for this disaster?

It seems to me that there's been a lot of fairly successful spinning of the narrative to hold local authorities responsible, in part, for the Flint water crisis. Do you feel there's any truth to claims that the local authorities had any say in the water switch?

ACLU_Michigan4 karma

I'm a journalist, not a fortuneteller ;-) i stay away from making predictions -- especially when we still don't know the full story. Multiple investigations are underway. We need to see where they lead.

monsterlynn2 karma

Fair enough! :) On a somewhat related note, though, this (in my memory anyway), it a pretty unprecedented situation. Are there any similar historical precedents to draw from here -- Love Canal would be the closest I can think of off the top of my head -- or are we dealing with something completely unique?

ACLU_Michigan2 karma

I don't know if there's much precedent for this, at least in one regard: This was the government that was poisoning people and trying to cover it up, not a corporation.

rob5i5 karma

Has the billing department stopped sending water bills to the residents yet? Can the people that continue to charge for the contaminated water be brought up on charges of fraud?

ACLU_Michigan7 karma

Water bills continue to be sent. I'm not sure about the fraud charges, and I'm not a lawyer (though i do know several very good ones) but i was reading something recently about the legality of selling a faulty product, which seems to very much apply to Flint.

thedeartruth84 karma

Does the money being pledged by all these celebrities, including the million dollars donated by The Game, actually have an impact on fixing this situation, or does a large percentage of his donation get lost in "administrative fees"?

ACLU_Michigan6 karma

I honestly have not been following this aspect to closely. I think a lot of donations so far have been for bottled water, which seems a little crazy to me -- all those small water bottles are an environmental problem on there own. They should be taking 5-gallon jugs to people's homes. But that is just an opinion. And, like I said, I'm more focused on the issue of what went wrong and who caused it, and who tried to cover it up.

superkbf4 karma

People continued to be charged for receiving tainted water. What role does/did the water company have in the decision making process, and if they're not able to collect on their bills (rightly so), where do they turn?

ACLU_Michigan2 karma

Until recently, a series of four appointed emergency managers had final say on everything going on in Flint. Even now, with the Emergency Manager gone, an appointed Financial Advisory Board holds significant authority. In the past, people who didn't pay their water bills were threatened with shutoffs. My understanding is that shutoffs have currently be suspended.

prisonpassion4 karma

Do you believe this level of neglected pollution to be part of a larger trend that will increasingly, disproportionately harm people of a lower class? If so, are there legislative measures we can take to correct the issue, or do you see high pollution levels in poor neighborhoods likely continuing in the future?

ACLU_Michigan6 karma

Flint is definitely a warning signal about the larger issue of againg water and sewer infrastructure. The fderal government, since the 1970s, has cut by 75% the amount of funding it provides to pay for the repair and replacement of water and sewer lines. AS those costs are piled on the backs of rate payers, more and more are crumbling under the weight. That is why the city of Detroit has been cutting off the water to tens of thousands of poor people for the past two years.

Ivedefinitelyreddit3 karma

What got you onto this story? How did you even begin to question the quality of Flint's water, and how did you connect the dots?

ACLU_Michigan4 karma

I started going up there because the city was under the control of an appointed emergency manager. As soon as I hit town, I found that people were up in arms about their water -- both the quality and the price. The average family of four in Flint pays $150 a month for water they can't drink.

gellman3 karma

In your opinion, is this crisis something that they can overcome given their current economic status? It seems like everything I hear about Flint is about how desolate the prognosis is.

ACLU_Michigan9 karma

the question is not can they overcome it, but rather should they be forced to overcome it? And the answer to that, in my opinion is a definite NO. The state did this to Flint, and it needs to be the state's responsibility to address and pay for whatever fixes need to be made and can be made. Tragically, for the kids who were lead poisoned, the damage is permanent and irreversible, so that is not something that can be "fixed," only mitigated through stepped up education services, nutrition and other measures -- which the state should also fund.

FrakkinPhoenix3 karma

What is your favorite sandwich?

ACLU_Michigan3 karma

I'm from Pennsylvania, and grew up on Italian subs. First thing I do whenever I return to visit family is to start hitting sub shops, of which there are many, many good ones.

Shubrook3 karma

Are you looking at other towns?

I'm a DBA for a hospital in another run-down Michigan town. I can show you that our patients are 6x more likely to have 5 ug/dl of lead in their blood than the average american.

If you aren't, who should I go to?

ACLU_Michigan3 karma

You can start by contacting me. My email is [email protected].

EmellDerra3 karma

Do you think more non-profit organizations should have investigative reporters?

ACLU_Michigan6 karma

No other ACLU branch in the country ha ever done what we've done. One of our hopes, when we began this experiment a little more than two years ago, was that we'd be successful enough that others would want to replicate it. So, we'll see what happens with us n terms o the organization. But last night at the Michigan Press Association awards banquet, a big winner was Bridge Magazine, which is a nonprofit organization. You have national outfits like Pro Publica, which has been blazing this trail for a while. so it is clearly a growing movement. The best thing about us getting an award last night is that it legitimizes the effort.

monsterlynn3 karma

I have family that received testing kits from the National Guard. IIRC, the water samples will be tested by the DEQ. Can they be considered at all trustworthy at this point? Do you know of any other organizations providing free water testing that would provide a more reliable result?

ACLU_Michigan4 karma

I don't know of any free, independent tests. And I can't tell you for certain the state tests can be trusted. But I do know that two of the heroes involved in uncovering the Flint crisis -- EPA water expert Miguel Del Toral and Virginia Tech professor Marc Edwards, are involved, so I'm heartened by that. But ever since before my kids were born nearly 30 years ago, I've been using filtered water.

lavjames3 karma

What were some of the first steps you took to help first help unfold this crisis and what is your opinion on how state is handling it now ?

ACLU_Michigan7 karma

The first step was talking with the people of flint, and listening to what they had to say, and not blowing them off as being crazies. Then I started following up on their concerns, and working with residents.

As for the state's current response, that is still unfolding. But the most important thing, and i learned this from Virginia Tech professor Marc Edwards, is this: The biggest threat isn't lead in the water, it is having lead in the water and not knowing about it." The citizens, Dr. Edwards, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha from Hurley Children's Hospital in Flint -- we all worked to get that truth out. Finally, after a lot of hard work and frustration, we've broken through in a big way.

drinkymcsipsip3 karma

Great job on bringing this insane situation to light. Have you been threatened or has anyone on a local or state level tried to discredit you, go after you, etc?

ACLU_Michigan3 karma

No, not really. I've never been worried about that sort of thing. And by now, it is too late, The media hounds -- local, state, national -- have been unleashed in a big way. It is no longer just me and a few others on the trail, which is a great thing.

Narbles223 karma

As the story unfolds, what media sources/people should citizens look to for information?

ACLU_Michigan4 karma

Well, the ACLU of Michigan's website,, is the go-to site for everyone, of course ;-) But now that we''ve broken through, there is lots of good reporting breaking out all over. But when this first broke, back in early July of last year, the team at Michigan Radio, a public radio outlet, was the first to pick up on what we were reporting, and they've done an outstanding job moving the story forward ever since. I can't give them enough props.

cashcow12 karma

How the hell do we fix this?

ACLU_Michigan3 karma

The place to start in deciding how the problem gets fixed is to begin listening to the residents of Flint -- especially those who worked like crazy to expose the crisis. They are the first voice that needs to be heard, not the last.

2cool4life2 karma

Do you like water?

ACLU_Michigan5 karma

The noted tippler W.C. Fields once said he wouldn't touch a drop of the stuff because fish make love in it. But, you know, go without it for several days and you are dead. So it is hard not to like something as essential to live as clean, fresh water. The people of Flint now certainly now how valuable thing that is.

monsterlynn2 karma

Are you looking into any possible connection between Detroit being under an EM at the time Flint was being gouged on water leading up to the decision to go with Flint River water?

ACLU_Michigan4 karma

That whole issue between what was going on in Detroit under an EM and in bankruptcy, and the creation of the Great Lakes Water Authority, and how Flint relates to that is a really complicated piece to this puzzle that I haven't yet figured out.

SequesterMe2 karma

Lead poisoning has been shown to be associated with violent crime.

I believe you've got a responsibility to follow this through the years. Will you be able to do that?

ACLU_Michigan3 karma

There is definitely concern about this disaster will lead to the funneling of yet more minority and poor kids into the school to prison pipeline. One of the reasons for the lawsuits being filed is to help ensure the resources are available to minimize the extent of that tragic outcome. As far as staying on it, the answer to that depends. If others are up to the job, then I will shift my focus elsewhere. One thing for certain, though, is that I have an affection for Flint I didn't believe possible; i never imagined feeling this way about a town. Detroit is a place that I love, but the people of Flint have been assaulted in a way that is, really, unimaginable.

redd49721 karma

What do you make of the report that federal officials were getting water imported months before the story broke. Does that sound credible to you?

ACLU_Michigan2 karma

Since the switch to the river was made in April 2014, people were complaining about the look, smell and taste of the water. You didn't need a scientist to tell you it was unsafe. So I'm not surprised anyone in flint would be wary of using it. but if you are desperately poor and can't afford filters, or to buy filtered water, and the government is assuring you that it is safe, then you have limited options. But for those with options to start buying water -- or, in the case of those government employees - have it bought for them, i'm not surprised at all.

Etervigila1 karma


ACLU_Michigan1 karma

I don't have a copy editor and I am doing this on the fly, trying to answer as many questions as possible, as quickly as possible. So, I apologize if there are typos, etc.

Shubrook-1 karma

How would the ACLU prefer that a state government 'bail out' a failed town?

Are there poster-child examples of failing towns which were successfully put back on their feet?

ACLU_Michigan8 karma

First of all, the state hasn't "bailed out" any town or school district. In fact, massive revenue sharing cuts imposed by Governor Rick Snyder pushed a lot of these cities over the edge, allowing the state to come in and take them over. As far as poster-children for success, the most highly touted example is Detroit, which was led through the bankruptcy process by an appointed Emergency Manager and his law firm, Jones Day. But if you ask the retirees who were stripped of the health care benefits they worked their whole lives to earn, or you go into the neighborhoods that are still devastated, you might not hear all that much cheering. In truth, I think the jury is still out for some places. The question is, are the cuts, and the new debt -- yes, part of the way emergency managers balanced the books was to borrow more money in many cases! then we don't really know if the situations are sustainable gong forward. And that is really the only determination of "success." Except that the law succeeded in making sure that, no matter what austerity measures are imposed by Emergency Managers, the one thing they can't do is miss a bond payment. So, in that regard, the law has been a magnificent success.