CHICAGO – Additional executive powers are being restored to Flint, Michigan's mayor in a move backed by Gov. Rick Snyder to help the city deal with its water contamination crisis.
The Receivership Transition Advisory Board recommended that some powers be returned to the mayor, and state Treasurer Nick Khouri signed off on Friday. Snyder had recommended the move at the request of Mayor Karen Weaver.
Snyder in a statement praised the approval "to return additional executive powers to Mayor Weaver during this critically important time."
Weaver now has authority to appoint the city administrator and all department heads.
"This is a positive step forward for the city of Flint," Snyder said.
"Today's action is the next step in transitioning to full, local control in Flint," he said.
Snyder last spring declared the city's financial emergency under state intervention laws to be over, meaning the city was no longer under the auspices of an emergency manager, but the transition oversight board does retains oversight.
The crisis began after the city broke off from the Detroit Water and Sewerage System in 2014 while under emergency management, saying it was too expensive.
The city began pulling water from the Flint River with a plan to use the river water until 2016, when it will get its water from a new pipeline being built by the Karegnondi Water Authority.
The river water corroded pipes throughout the system, creating elevated lead levels.
Last fall, the state provided the city with $6 million to help over the costs of reconnecting temporarily Detroit's water and sewer system as residents complained of the water's color and odor. The return to Detroit water did not solve the city's problems because it became clear that the delivery system's pipes had been contaminated with lead.
The House last week approved $28 million in emergency state spending to help the city deal with the water crisis and the state Senate is expected to vote on the appropriation this week. Snyder also is hoping to secure additional federal help through two special programs. That request follows President Obama's denial of a federal disaster declaration that would provide additional relief program funding for Genesee County.
The president did previously approve an emergency declaration and said the federal government would speed up the delivery of $80 million in water infrastructure funding for the state that could help with the crisis.
Snyder is expected to provide additional financial assistance in his budget that will be unveiled on Feb. 10. The state recently announced a $575 million surplus heading into its next budget year.
The city joined the authority, which will draw water from Lake Huron, in 2013 as a means to save money. The authority, which also includes two other counties in addition to Flint and Genesee County, issued $220.5 million of bonds in 2014 to fund the 63-mile pipeline to Lake Huron.
On Monday, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette announced former Wayne County prosecutor Todd Flood would serve as special counsel in the probe his office has launched into the water crisis. Retired Detroit Federal Bureau of Investigations chief Andrew Arena will also aid in the probe into whether Michigan laws were violated.
Schuette turned to the special counsel as his office establishes a "conflict wall" because it also is representing the state in lawsuits filed by citizens and various groups against the state, city, and others. Lawsuits filed against the governor and the state will be handled by chief deputy Carol Isaacs and chief legal counsel Matthew Schneider.
Schuette said an example of a previous "conflict wall" case was the Detroit bankruptcy, in which the office was involved in protecting police and firefighter pensions and another group in his office represented the governor and the state.