Other opinions

Keep close eye on Flint relief funds

A lot of money is now flowing into Flint to replace the city’s lead-leaching water lines. The dollars should also come with a fierce watchdog.

The Michigan Senate last week approved the awarding of $100 million in federal funds to the troubled city to replace its pipes. In addition, the settlement of a lawsuit against the state will deliver another $87 million.

That money should be enough to identify and replace the estimated 18,000 water lines serving Flint homes and businesses by the target date of 2020, but only if it is properly and productively spent.

With the recent controversy over how contracts are being awarded and some concerns with Mayor Karen Weaver’s administration, as well as the city’s legacy of corruption, steps should be taken to ensure the money gets to where it is intended to go.

In approving the federal outlay, the Senate attached a few strings. Flint will have to give regular reports to the state on the progress and costs of replacing the pipes.

That’s a good start, but each dollar should be tracked. Given the state’s involvement with the Flint water crisis, and the general distrust in Flint regarding any state action, a neutral party would be best.

The auditor general could be a decent option, if that office has the proper manpower. And Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich of Flint should also be consulted, given his close involvement with his hometown.

Last year, he proposed the creation of a Flint Authority to oversee the city’s recovery. The state could revisit that idea.

Already, Flint officials are battling over how the bids for the first $35 million of replacement work were awarded.

Objections by some council members that one firm — the low bidder — was awarded all of the work forced the reopening of the bid process.

Third-party eyes are needed here to make sure the new bidding doesn’t drive up the per-home replacement costs.

The city is already under federal investigation for how $25.5 million in blight funds are being used. The Treasury Department has not said what triggered the audit, but per-unit demolition costs have soared.

Last fall Flint was caught up in the scandal involving Rizzo Environmental Services, which allegedly bribed a number of Macomb County officials.

Former Mayor Woodrow Stanley was working for Rizzo at the time Flint was considering awarding the company a garbage hauling contract. Weaver said publicly she didn’t know about Stanley’s involvement when she recommended going with Rizzo, but emails obtained by the Flint Journal suggest otherwise.

Weaver was also hit by a federal whistleblower lawsuit last year filed by a former city administrator who charges she was fired for objecting to a request by the mayor to divert into her campaign account charitable donations intended to provide relief for city residents.

Safe is always better than sorry. Flint has a poor track record, both for the short and long term, of managing its affairs.

There’s a lot of need in the city, and, fortunately, a lot of money now available to meet it. Every precaution should be taken to assure that all of the money goes to addressing those needs.

— The Detroit News

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