In Michigan, emergency manager Darnell Earley steps down, gets D.C. subpoena
DETROIT — The emergency manager who’s a focus of increasing criticism over lead-poisoned water in Flint, Michigan, and decrepit Detroit school facilities is stepping down from his job.
Darnell Earley sent a letter to Michigan’s governor Tuesday announcing his resignation from his role as emergency manager of Detroit Public Schools. Hours later officials in Washington sent him a different kind of message: a subpoena.
The House Oversight Committee issued a subpoena on Tuesday evening for Earley to testify Wednesday morning before the congressional committee, according to a staffer on the committee.
Neither Earley nor his lawyer has accepted service of the subpoena because it “borders on nonsensical,” attorney A. Scott Bolden told CNN.
“We would give it every consideration if he had more time to prepare, was properly served and issued an appearance with a reasonable date,” Bolden said.
Bolden said Earley is not in Washington and “travel is impossible” to appear by Wednesday morning.
Earley has been at the center of twin crises that have in recent weeks put a spotlight on Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration.
From 2013 to 2015, he was emergency manager for Flint. In the city of nearly 100,000 some 70 miles northwest of Detroit, Earley has become a lightning rod for residents who fear health problems because of lead-laden tap water.
Appointed by the governor to oversee Detroit Public Schools in January 2015, Earley was named as a defendant last week in a lawsuit by the teachers union that called for his ouster and accused officials of allowing the conditions at the schools “to deteriorate to the point of crisis.”
Earley was invited Monday to testify about the water crisis at Wednesday’s House Oversight Committee hearing. He declined that invitation Monday evening, Bolden said.
The ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, Rep. Elijah Cummings, expressed disappointment at Earley’s decision not to appear.
“Mr. Earley has a right to assert the Fifth Amendment, but his abrupt resignation earlier today and his refusal to testify before the Committee make it even more urgent that we hear directly from the Governor as soon as possible about this escalating scandal,” Cummings said in a statement.
Snyder has said he had not been invited to the hearing.
Governor: He did ‘a very good job’ under circumstances
Earley told the governor in a letter that he will step down officially on February 29, saying he worked diligently “to eliminate the district’s structural budget deficit.”
Snyder said Tuesday that he would appoint a transition leader to take over Detroit’s 46,000-student school system — beset by teacher sickouts over decrepit facilities, overcrowding, insufficient maintenance and other issues — by the end of the month.
“Darnell has done a very good job under some very difficult circumstances,” Snyder said in a statement.
Ivy Bailey, interim president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, said Earley’s departure is a “step in the right direction.” She accused him of “a willful and deliberate indifference to our schools” and “a blatant disrespect for the teachers, school employees, parents and students of our city.”
Denies responsibility for water switch
Under his tenure, in 2014, the city’s water supply was switched from Lake Huron to the notoriously filthy Flint River, a decision reversed more than a year later amid reports of corroded pipes and elevated blood lead levels.
Shortly after the switch, the water began looking, smelling and tasting funny, dirty even. It turned out the river water was highly corrosive — 19 times more corrosive than the water in Lake Huron, Virginia Tech researchers discovered.
Earley has said he was not responsible for the switch, only for implementing it.
Flint Mayor Karen Weaver and the governor have declared states of emergency since reports were released about the quality of the water. Snyder called in the National Guard to help deliver clean water to residents.
Federal prosecutors in Detroit have been working with several agencies — including the FBI, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the Environmental Protection Agency’s inspector general and criminal division — to investigate the water contamination.
And critics have called for Snyder to resign, accusing his administration and officials he appointed of prioritizing cost cutting over public safety.
Snyder told CNN last week that he’s committed to dealing with the water crisis and won’t step down.