The case of water contamination in Flint, Michigan, is a textbook example of government failure. So much so that the state’s attorney general office launched a criminal investigation against 15 state and local officials in 2016. The trials began this summer, but the charges—including involuntary manslaughter—apparently aren’t enough for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to break all ties with these people.
Eden Wells, the chief medical executive for the department, has been charged with involuntary manslaughter, obstruction of justice, and lying to a peace officer, yet she never lost her job. Authorities allege that she threatened to cut funding for a local group investigating the cause of a Legionnaire’s outbreak that killed 12 people, per an investigation document. She also allegedly lied about her knowledge of what caused this severe form of pneumonia. We now know it was the water—the same water that exposed a city of nearly 100,000 to lead poisoning. At least one of these deaths is at the center of this investigation.
How has the state punished her so far? With job security and a juicy paycheck, of course. Wells began a new job earlier this month, right before her trial started, as the new advisory physician to the Population Health Administration, a position that will help advise on issues related to HIV, Hepatitis C, and (ironically) environmental health, among other focus areas. Wells will also continue to carry out her old job as the DHHS medical executive through the end of the year.
She’s going to be paid $179,672 a year for the new role, reports MLive-The Flint Journal. The state told the newspaper Wells was the only one to apply for the position, which was reportedly only advertised for less than a week.
This new role no longer sits under the governor’s cabinet, which would’ve given Governor-Elect Gretchen Whitmer power to fire her. As a classified employee with the state workforce, Wells can’t be let go so easily as the state affords this category of workers certain protections, reports Crain’s Detroit Business.
“[The department] determined there was a need for an advisory physician to the Population Health Administration, as we already have with other administrations within the department,” said Angela Minicuci, a spokesperson for the department, in an email to Earther. “We look forward to Dr. Wells continuing with [the department] in this new role.”
At this point, nothing’s surprising around the Flint water crisis. The state health department even tried to blame a local hospital for those 12 deaths, for fuck’s sake. The whole thing’s a mess, but a new job appointment won’t stop the court from digging into Wells and the other 14 government officials on trial.
Incoming Attorney General Dana Nessel plans to “re-evaluate” the investigation, according to Mother Jones, to give it some teeth. She hasn’t clarified what that means exactly, but those facing the jury better get ready.