Jan. 20 2016 12:12 AM

Lansing leaders involved in crisis

Protesters rally at Lansing City Hall on Tuesday over the Flint water crisis as they await Gov. Rick Snyder's State of the State speech across the street at the Capitol. Hundreds were expected.
Todd Heywood/City Pulse

When Gov. Rick Snyder was in Flint last week, a familiar Lansing face was by his side: David Maxwell, the head of the city of Lansing’s Office of Faith Based Initiatives. Maxwell is a Flint native.

Maxwell was on the podium with Snyder during a press conference on the crisis — something that caused some Lansing observers to raise their eyebrows.

But Maxwell said he was there to support Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, who was also on the podium.

“I could care less about the governor,” said Maxwell in a phone interview. “We’re not forming an alliance.”

Maxwell, bishop of Eliezer Baptist Church in Lansing, said his involvement in Flint is threefold: He’s longtime friends with Weaver, a high school classmate; his 84-year-old mother and stepfather live in Flint; and he has parishioners who live in Flint and thus are impacted by the crisis. He said he is in Flint two or three times a week.

He said he is acting as an “informal adviser” to Weaver. He and Weaver attended school together. He said Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, who appointed him, supports his work in Flint.

Toxic levels of lead, combined with an increase in reported cases of the deadly Legionnaire’s Disease — which may be tied to the Flint River water crisis —resulted in a state declaration of emergency on Jan. 5. On Sunday, President Barack Obama declared a federal emergency. The National Guard has also been mobilized to assist in addressing the crisis, mostly in distributing water filters and cases of bottled water to impacted residents.

Maxwell was critical of the move to distribute filters.

“You can put out all the filters you want, but it doesn’t fly,” the minister said. “The filter suggests the water is poison. People are not going to buy into this.”

He also noted that just having bottled water available at local fire stations may not be enough, particularly for the city’s seniors and disabled residents.

“You can have all the water in the world available at the fire station, but if a senior lives a half mile from the fire station, they are going to have trouble accessing it,” he said. “It’s a challenge. That’s a concern.”

Maxwell isn’t the only Lansing-area resident with a stake in Flint. Jerry Ambrose, the former chief of staff in the Bernero administration, was part of the team that worked for Snyder appointee Darnell Earley, the emergency manager in Flint from 2013 till January of last year — during which time the decision was made to switch to the Flint River for drinking water.

Ambrose succeeded Earley in January last year and served till the end of April.

During Ambrose’s four-month tenure, citizens were growing more and more discontented about the quality and condition of the water pouring from their taps. As Ambrose was taking on the role of manager, water officials announced the water had failed to meet federal safe drinking water standards because there was too much disinfectant in it.

Protesters offer free Flint water to lawmakers.
Todd Heywood/City Pulse