The Flint City Council on Tuesday signed off on its portion of a $641-million settlement with residents of the poor, majority-Black city who were exposed to lead-tainted water.
The city’s insurer would kick in $20-million as part of a sweeping deal to settle lawsuits against Flint, the state of Michigan and other parties. Facing a Dec. 31 deadline, the council approved its stake after an hours-long meeting that raised concerns about whether residents were getting shortchanged, MLive.com reported.
“It’s something. It’s better than nothing,” council President Kate Fields said, adding that she hopes a judge looks at a second resolution approved by the council that questions the claims process and the state’s share of the agreement.
Most of the money – $600-million – is coming from the state of Michigan. Regulators in then-Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration allowed Flint to use water from the Flint River in 2014-15 without treating it to reduce corrosion. Lead in old pipes broke off and flowed through people’s taps.
The disaster made Flint a nationwide symbol of governmental mismanagement, with residents of the city of nearly 100,000 lining up for bottled water and parents fearing that their children had suffered permanent harm. The crisis was highlighted by some as an example of environmental injustice and racism.
Experts have blamed the water for an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease, which led to at least 12 deaths in the Flint area.
Before the council meeting, lawyers involved in the settlement appeared Monday before a federal judge in Ann Arbor who is overseeing the litigation. U.S. District Judge Judith Levy said preliminary approval could come in January, though she also pledged to hear from residents.
Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley was in favour of the city’s participation in the settlement, warning that the city could face major financial stress if it stayed on the sidelines and defended itself against lawsuits.
Separately, state Attorney General Dana Nessel told reporters Tuesday that prosecutors in her office were close to wrapping up a renewed criminal investigation of the Flint water crisis.
“It should be understood I have not put any pressure on this team to do anything. … They should do what they (feel) they are ethically obligated to do,” Nessel said.
In June 2019, about six months after Nessel took office, Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud dropped pending criminal cases against eight people and said the investigation was starting from scratch.
Seven people pleaded no contest to misdemeanours under special prosecutor Todd Flood, but their records were eventually scrubbed clean as part of their agreement to co-operate. No contest pleas are not admissions of guilt but are treated as such for the purposes of sentencing.
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