Officials in Flint, Michigan are fully engulfed in the court of public opinion after dangerous levels of lead contaminated the city’s tap water for almost two years. The problem had inexcusably been ignored since April 2014 when the city attempted to cut costs and supplying water from the Flint River. During this time, necessary precautions to ensure clean water for Flint citizens, 41% of which live below the poverty line, were apparently ignored. Tap water, and the pipes in which the water travels, have now been rendered dangerous. A groundswell of national stakeholders are now calling for Flint officials to be held accountable, including the prompt resignation of Governor Rick Snyder. Michigan has declared a state of emergency. So how bad is it?
- Lead poisoning, even at low levels, can contribute to brain damage, behavioral problems and learning disabilities in children.
- 8,657 children were exposed to contaminated water in Flint (Census data).
- The National Guard was activated; they have been providing aid to Flint citizens by distributing bottled water and water filters.
The first order of leadership is providing a safe place to live, work and raise a family. Michigan officials not only failed, but apparently deceived people by “retreating to the fox hole” and turning their heads. The Washington Post recently reported that findings reveal “government failures at every level.” How does this affect the trust between Flint citizens and its government? We’d say it has eroded to epic proportions. Should legal action be taken? You better believe it!
Crisis costs time, money, customers and careers; and in the most severe cases, lives. This crisis was avoidable and reaction time was too slow. A complete lack of integrity by leadership has left a city broken and divided, and on the brink of a loss of life. Only new, transparent leadership will restore the reputational equity Flint officials lost over the past two years. However, when dealing with the fundamental issue of trust between a community and city officials, it’s not always that simple. Trust will have to be rebuilt over time.
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