Panel discusses unity as key to Flint recovery

Friday, June 3, 2016 - 9:20pm

All eyes turned to Flint at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference as Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, Flint Mayor Karen Weaver and Ridgway White, president of the C.S. Mott Foundation, participated in a panel discussion Thursday afternoon on how to help Flint recover and rise from the water crisis.

Weaver said that it is important to move Flint forward by developing the economy with private investments and job growth, rather than playing the blame game. Specifically, she hopes more individuals will contribute to improving the infrastructure and making Flint a model for other urban cities when it comes to taking these steps.

“It doesn’t matter if you are Democrat or Republican, we have common goals, and this is a people issue so we are committed to working together for Flint,” Weaver said. “Economic development is going to be crucial to us sustaining ourselves and seeing this recovery that we want to have happen in Flint.”

One key part in moving forward also involves gaining the trust of the citizens of Flint and making sure the lessons are being learned, Weaver said. Discussion moderator Christy McDonald from WTVS Detroit Public Television stated that 70 percent of people in Flint still don’t trust that they can drink the filtered water. Weaver responded by stressing that implementing replacement infrastructure is the key to restoring faith.

“There is some progress being made,” Weaver said. “People are saying it hasn’t happened quickly enough, but things are moving forward.  One of the good things that just happened not too long ago is we got requests for proposals out. I think people needed to see that happen.”

White spoke to the C.S. Mott Foundation’s role in helping to ease the struggling community of Flint. To make the recovery a unified effort, they came up with the “Recover and Rise Initiative,” a $125 million pledge to Flint over the next five years.

“There’s no magic pill for solving the water crisis,” White said. “The Mott Foundation has focused on building education and the non-profit community.”

Calley said the building of consensuses is another key to recovery. No one entity such, as the state government or EPA, should be trusted alone. Weaver agreed that it would take collaboration of public and private sectors to move forward, praising the C.S. Mott Foundation’s 90-year history in Flint.

“Nothing can make it happen overnight; it’s something that has to happen over time,” Calley said.

Though replacing 15,000 and possibly more lead lines will take time, Weaver said she is optimistic about the pilot program process already underway.

To compliment state funds pouring into Flint, White said they are working closely to ensure that the philanthropic money pouring in is working in sync with the government.

“I think it takes a team,” White said. “We are a strong community. We have the building blocks.”

Opportunity out of the tragedy is one of the bright spots to take out of the crisis, Calley said. Flint citizens are now occupying water distribution jobs and helping the sense of community rise in the city. He reiterated that economic development is key to the prevention of future tragedies.

“We need to put politics aside and to make sure that the obligations are met,” Calley said. “I want to be able to look back on this time and say that this was a real turning point for the city: out of tragedy came a success story.”

Weaver simply stated that the two things she would like most for Flint are pipes and jobs. She added that, if people invest and create partnerships, they could really take advantage of resources such as the land in Flint, using similar developments in Detroit like the RiverWalk as models.

“People want to work,” Weaver said. “And people don’t want to leave. They want to stay home.”

Calley further stressed the importance of education as necessary for people to get jobs. Retaining population is also a concern for Weaver, as she expressed that most young people who go to college in Flint end up leaving the city.

White added that the C.S. Mott Foundation has put $35 million into the Flint schools over the years, and that future development, especially in education, is necessary for recovery.

“This is an opportunity for us to make something positive really happen,” Weaver said. “We have the possibility, the potential, to really put Flint on the map for some different things now.”