By Steve Neavling
Motor City Muckraker
Former Flint Emergency Manager Darnell Earley, who is under investigation for his handling of the drinking water crisis, wants city taxpayers to pick up his growing legal tab – $75,000.
Earley has paid an attorney up to $750 an hour to guide him through a congressional hearing last month and to represent him in several investigations into the water crisis, according to records obtained by the Detroit Free Press. In March alone, Earley spent $64,000 in legal fees and billed the city of Flint.
Earley was the state-appointed emergency manager when the cash-starved city switched to the Flint River for drinking water in April 2014 to save money.
Record obtained by Motor City Muckraker show that Earley rejected numerous opportunities to stay with Detroit’s historically safe water for a dramatically discounted price. On March 7, 2014, Earley wrote in an e-mail to the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) that he was not interested in a short-term contract to avoid using the Flint River, despite serious concerns raised by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality in 2012.
“There will be no need for Flint to continue purchasing water (from DWSD) to serve its residents and businesses after April 17, 2014,” Earley wrote to DWSD Director Sue McCormick.
But months later, after studies began to show dangerously elevated levels of lead from Flint River water, Earley and Gov. Rick Snyder claimed the city was forced to use the river because DWSD would not provide a short-term contract.
Earley, who previously refused to testify before Congress, was slammed for his handling of the crisis at a hearing before the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform last month.
Rep. Elijah Cummings said he “almost vomited” when Earley tried to dismiss responsibility.
“It is sickening – all of it,” Cummings said. “You don’t have to be a water treatment expert. A 5-year-old could figure out” there were problems with the water.
Earley’s attorney is A. Scott Bolden of Washington, D.C., who has charged between $500 and $750 an hour.
Flint Mayor Karen Weaver told the Free Press that “it’s extremely unfortunate and disappointing that given everything the city and residents of Flint have suffered and are still suffering from, we are also on the hook for thousands of dollars in legal fees for the former emergency manager to defend his actions concerning his role in the water crisis.
“This is yet another expense that the city doesn’t deserve,” Weaver said. “As a result of this man-made water disaster, we are already struggling financially and could certainly use this money for something much more productive, like replacing lead-tainted pipes.”
Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.