Flint Water Crisis Creates PR Scandal for Michigan Governor

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder started his second term in office on a great note. He helped put an end to the biggest municipal bankruptcy in American history. He then cut expenditure in the state by switching to a cheaper water source from the Flint River, which promised exponential savings. Events worked so much in his favor he considered capitalizing on that momentum by running for President.

Flint Water Crisis PR
But while Governor Snyder made the most of his political success, his kryptonite brewed in the pipes turning to lead in the water and resulting in metal poisoning for several people. Lead is now also the prime suspect in a new outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease killing almost a dozen people in Genesee County.

Governor Snyder’s Reaction

After tests showed an unhealthy increase in the lead levels in Flint children’s blood, Snyder switched back to the old water supply. He then declared a state of emergency and requested assistance from the federal government. President Obama quickly signed off on the request to help clean up Governor Snyder’s mess.

The Problem

While no one disagrees that Governor Snyder did the right thing, many wonder why he took so long to do it. His poor timing has several people questioning his administration’s handling of the situation. Some people in the media go as far as to call it ‘negligent.’

Evidence has also surfaced implying the top-level workers in his administration, knew of the public’s concern regarding the water, but disregarded it. It later became an issue for the Department of Environmental Quality to handle, resulting in the director’s resignation. The task was then taken on by the Department of Health and Human Services. By then, the Governor saw the true severity of the problem.

Public Outcry

Few people blame the governor for the decision to switch the water supply, but many people still blame him for a slow response. Not only did it cost the health – and potentially, lives – of Flint residents, but they lost faith in his administration. People no longer trust him to lead. More than 100 residents staged a protest outside his office last week calling for his resignation.

Political Response

As more people gear up for elections, the Republican versus Democratic rift grows. So, the Democrats made the most of this blunder. Tim Greimel, the House Democratic Leader, drew attention to the poor handling of the issue and supported calls for Snyder’s resignation. Further supporting the Democrats it was the leading Democrat in the Whitehouse providing assistance needed.

Recovery for the Governor

Still communication specialists and colleagues alike believe Snyder can turn things around if he proceeds cautiously and maintains a hands-on approach to solving the problem. As the damage has already been done, and apologies were already made, Snyder should now focus his attention on how to move forward.

What Next

He should establish systems for residents and the media to monitor recent updates on the situation. This helps to keep the issue in the public eye for the right reasons. It doesn’t just remind people the problem exists. It reminds them that Governor Snyder is working on it 24/7 and getting results. Updates can be shared via text messages, a web page, or social media.

As actions overshadow words in any instance, the Governor should also take more measures to ensure the safe recovery of each individual, and provide reparations without a fight for the families affected.

The responsible health officials should also do a thorough investigation of the Legionnaire’s disease outbreak, and take measures to provide free treatment to those affected, whether it was caused by the water supply or not. This shows not just a commitment to cleaning up his mess, but a vested interest in the welfare of residents.

Ronn Torossian

Ronn Torossian is the Founder and Chairman of 5WPR, one of the largest independently-owned PR firms in the United States. With over 25 years of experience crafting and executing powerful narratives, Torossian is one of America’s most prolific and well-respected Public Relations professionals. Since founding 5WPR in 2003, he has led the company’s growth, overseeing more than 275 professionals. With clients spanning corporate, technology, consumer and crisis, in addition to digital marketing and public affairs capabilities, 5WPR is regularly recognized as an industry leader and has been named “PR Agency of the Year” by the American Business Awards on multiple occasions. Throughout his career, Torossian has worked with some of the world’s most visible companies, brands and organizations. His strategic, resourceful approach has been recognized with numerous awards including being named the Stevie American Business Awards 2020 Entrepreneur of the Year, the American Business Awards PR Executive of the Year, twice over, an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year semi-finalist, Metropolitan Magazine’s Most Influential New Yorker, a 2020 Top Crisis Communications Professional by Business Insider, and a recipient of Crain’s New York 2021 Most Notable in Marketing & PR. Torossian is known as one of the country’s foremost experts on crisis communications, and is called on to counsel blue chip companies, top business executives and entrepreneurs both in the United States and worldwide. Torossian has lectured on crisis PR at Harvard Business School, appears regularly on CNN & CNBC, is a contributing columnist for Forbes and the New York Observer, and has authored two editions of his book, “For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results With Game-Changing Public Relations,” which is an industry best-seller. A NYC native, Torossian is a member of Young Presidents Organization (YPO), and active in numerous charities.

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