A public official from Flint, Michigan has been forced to resign after an audio recording surfaced Sunday in which he blames the city’s water crisis on “n****rs who don’t pay their bills.”
Phil Stair, an employee of Genesee County Land Bank, was recorded making the racially-tinged remarks by environmental activist and independent journalist Chelsea Lyons without his prior knowledge or approval, an unethical practice at most outlets. The tapes were then posted to liberal news site Truth Against the Machine, where Lyons is a contributor.
The pair were driving to a restaurant when Stair told her what he believed to be the root causes of Flint’s ongoing water crisis: black residents failing to pay their bills at the time the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) still supplied the city’s water.
“Detroit was charging all its customers for the cost; they weren’t collecting from their residents. They weren’t shutting the water off, they were letting bills go forever, but they were charging everybody else, they covered them.
“Well, Flint has the same problems as Detroit, fucking n*** don’t pay their bills, believe me, I deal with them” Stair, who is white, can be hear saying on the recording.”
“Detroit didn’t collect on their bills, so they charged everybody else, but—Flint—Flint had to pay their bill to Detroit.””
According to multiple reports, it was Michigan Republican governor Rick Snyder who, after taking over the debt-riddled city in 2011, suggested switching its water source from pre-treated Lake Huron water, which the state paid Detroit for, to the Karegnondi Water Authority and later the famously tainted Flint River water in a bid to save money. The move was expected to bring in $1 million a year.
But Stair’s argument that Flint, which is 56 percent African American with 40% living under the poverty line, switched to the toxic Flint River water because of Detroit’s price gouging only reflects part of the truth. While the DWSD did increase its rate in April 2013, providing a public rationale for the move, the real reasons behind it remain shrouded in mystery.
Indeed, leaked emails obtained by the Motor City Muckracker and later confirmed by the DWSD that pre-date the 2014 switch show that the Detroit-based agency went out of its way to retain Flint as a customer, slashing prices by 50%, suggesting that the switch to an alternative source had more to do with a political aim than by a genuine concern over the price—or delivery—of water.
Soon after the change, residents started complaining of poor-tasting and- smelling water. But city and state officials, ignored their grievances for nearly a year, telling residents the water was safe to drink, despite reports that lead had been leeching out of the city’s aging pipes, exposing thousands of people to dangerous levels of the heavy metal.
The release of the recording led Stair to resign from his position as sales manager at the Land Bank on Monday.
Lyons also expressed concern over the Land Bank’s position as Flint’s largest property owner. Activists argue that the racially-charged narrative peddled by Stair and other government officials partly explains the county’s aggressive foreclosure practices.
Earlier this year, more than 8,000 people in Flint were slapped with tax liens and told they could lose both their homes and water supply, if they continued to refuse to pay their water bills, even thought the city’s water is still toxic and virtually unusable. Genesee Country Land Bank, a government agency, could then gain ownership of the tax-foreclosed homes, demolish and then resell the properties. (The city council ended up issuing a one-year moratorium on that proposal a few weeks after the city started sending out notices, following an uproar.)
Stair resigned from his position at the Land Bank after the recordings were made public. Michelle Wildman, executive director of the Land Bank, announced she accepted her resignation Monday morning and apologized for his remarks, M Live reported.
“I am deeply troubled by (the statements),” she said. “The citizens of Flint deserve to have trust in their public officials.”