Jan. 13 2016 12:15 AM

What has happened to Snyder's executive skills?

As Rick Snyder begins his sixth year as Michigan's chief executive, you have to wonder what happened to his pledge to bring finely honed managerial skills to the governor’s office.

Perhaps dealing with, as Snyder puts it, “his partners” in the Legislature has dulled his critical managerial abilities. Certainly it has lowered his standards. Consider two issues involving Snyder last week. The most serious is the tacit acknowledgment that the people in Flint have been poisoned by his administration's oversight of the city's water system. More on this later.

The other is the sloppy Senate Bill SB 571, which he signed into law, that among its provisions tramples on the First Amendment and gags local officials from even refuting disinformation about millage issues during the two months preceding an election. It was buried in a bill that started out at 12 pages and without hearings or public comment grew to 55 pages, pushed hard by the Mackinac Center and the DeVos family's conservative Michigan Freedom Fund.

The legislation is so flawed some Republican legislators sought to hold back the bill. Snyder acknowledged the flaws and asked the Legislature to fix it, which, of course, it has no obligation to do.

Before becoming governor, Snyder ran Gateway Computers — his most significant credential for bringing business acumen to government. Would he have approved a new product as flawed as SB 571 while running Gateway? It would have to happen like this.

SNYDER: OK, boys, tell me about this new SB 571 model. I've heard that there are problems.

CHIEF ENGINEER ARLAN MEEKHOF: Nothing we can't live with. Let's say it's good enough for the Mackinac product line.

SNYDER: I still don't see how legal's good with the Mackinac name — you now, that Apple business — but, hey, they're the experts. Not my job to second guess the professionals.

MEEKHOF: So here it is.Take a look. SNYDER: This is a lot bigger than we talked about. What happened?

MEEKHOF: We've crammed a lot of extras into this baby, just loaded it up. And here's the best part, we did it all in a week.

SNYDER: You had all year to work on this. What happened?

PRODUCT DIRECTOR KEVIN COTTER: Lots of time off and then we got sidetracked. You know, that Todd and Cindy thing really slowed us down. Right there on the floor. You can see how we'd be distracted.

SNYDER: Yeah, what a pair of loons. But, it got us plenty of publicity, Pure Michigan and all that … well, maybe, not pure. Anyway, let's focus here. Does this S571 work?

COTTER: Well, that depends on what you mean by work. Some of the team feels that we need more time to fix the bugs.They recommended we delay the release. They're uncomfortable with the power source.

SNYDER: You've made the right call. The board is pushing me on this. You know the pressure I'm getting from the chairman. DeVos wants results.

COTTER: We know. And that's why we're using those Amway batteries. Big supplier. Chairman of the board. We get that.

SNYDER: Come on, give me the bad news. I don't have all day.

MEEKHOF: The speech module is the problem. We think the power source is distorting its functionality. It's also affecting the cache, only channeling one of the information channels. But we've seen this before on the Mackinac models.

SNYDER: I guess I can live with that. Like you said, good enough. Let's send it out. Most of our customers won't care about the glitches. But I want you to fix the problem. No rush. When you get around to it.

COTTER: No rush it is. SNYDER: I'm out of here. There are rumblings that the Michigan plant has been discharging chemicals into the Flint River, something about the water. In Flint of all places. It's bankrupt. I'm sure our people can control this.

COTTER: Good luck. I don't know how you do it. It's like they expect you to be on top of everything.

In business and in government leadership matters. For Snyder to sign the sloppy Senate bill signals to the House and Senate that it meets his diminishing standard. No need to do it right the first time.

The disaster unfolding in Flint is clearly an executive failure. Snyder appointed the revolving cast of city managers, oversees the discredited Department of Natural Resources and certainly could have followed two years of news reports that questioned the quality of water from the Flint River as soon as the city system switched from the Detroit water system. Apparently cost cutting remains one of Snyder's management attributes.

There are people in Flint whose lives are altered irrevocably by the lead that leached into their water. This is on him.

The effects of lead poisoning in children, according to the Mayo Clinic, may include developmental delay, learning difficulties, hearing loss, sluggishness and fatigue and more. In infants symptoms include learning difficulties and slowed growth. For adults it's high blood pressure, miscarriage or premature birth in pregnant women, abdominal, muscle and joint pains, a decline in mental function. And you know that some people are still drinking the water.

Being the boss often means enforcing standards, holding people accountable. You are expected to be on top of everything. It’s not easy, but at least make the effort. That's a chief executive's job.

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