As 2009 ended, America’s populace looked forward to returning to a more calm and prosperous time. That, frustratingly, was not to be. Climate and the environment were the major focus when in 2010, Deepwater Horizon, an offshore drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico, exploded causing multiple deaths and the biggest oil spill in U.S. waters. Companies BP and Transocean received astronomical fines for their involvement. In 2011, the U.S. ended the life of Osama Bin Laden, the terrorist mastermind behind the September 11 attacks. The next year, Hurricane Sandy made landfall in New Jersey and New York causing $6.5 billion in damage. Then, in 2012, President Barack Obama won a second term after besting challenger, Mit Romney.
In 2013, America was the site of another terrorist attack, this time during the Boston Marathon when two bombs exploded near the finish line, killing three and injuring hundreds. In 2014, the Affordable Care Act (dubbed Obamacare) went into effect for millions of Americans. Near the end of 2014, Republicans took control of both the House and Senate.
The next five years began with even more tumult, as riots began in Baltimore, MD after the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody, leading to the start of the Black Lives Matter movement. The 2016 election pitted Democrat Hillary Clinton against upstart Republican, Donald Trump. After a tense and divisive campaign, Trump was victorious. In 2017, the U.S. withdrew from the Paris climate agreement and, ironically, a month after, Houston, Florida and Puerto Rico were hit by stronger and stronger hurricanes causing flooding and loss of life. The year 2018 brought with it the beginning of a trade standoff with China and the longest government shutdown in history.
In Flint, the years 2010-2019 were fraught with frustration and tragedy. The city was tested more than it ever was and the Flint community began to show the world what determination, cooperation and heart truly means as it pushed past yet another setback. Welcome to the resilient Flint of the 2010s.
2010-14: Invasion of the City Snatchers
Mayor Dayne Walling began 2010 with a smaller city, but a large deficit of $14.3 million. He quickly worked to continue city consolidation by closing Wilkins and Williams Schools. It wasn’t fast enough, as Michigan Governor Rick Snyder had other plans. The state knew of Flint’s deficit and wanted it gone. In 2011, Snyder signed the highly controversial Public Act 4, also known as the Local Government and School District Fiscal Accountability Act. The act granted “Emergency Managers,” appointed by the state, complete fiscal control over the entire city government and school districts. Immediately, Flint was put under state control.
Mayor Walling and the City Council were stripped of all power and former Acting Mayor, Michael Brown, was placed in their stead. Brown began his tenure by eliminating mayor and council pay, and by laying off several city officials. The city fought back. In early 2012, Sam Muma, head of AFSCME Local 1600, filed a lawsuit alleging that the state violated the Open Meetings Act when Brown was appointed without process. A judge granted a temporary restraining order against Brown and any action made by him. Five days later, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina ruled in favor of Muma and Brown was removed from office. It never stuck, however, as six days later, the Michigan Court of Appeals reinstated Brown.
Public Act 4 was being challenged throughout the state and when Brown regained power, he wasted no time. On the night before an important state hearing that would suspend the act, Brown issued executive orders that included mandatory union contract concessions, new contracts with the police union and city employees and the adoption of a proposed 2013 budget before scheduled public hearings. The budget included new and additional fees to city residents such as a $66 street light assessment and $143 trash collection fee. Next, Brown laid off 100 city employees.
After Public Act 4 was suspended in August, Brown was forced to step down due to a technicality. Before leaving office however, Brown signed more resolutions that included the sale of Genesee Towers to Uptown Reinvestment Corp. for $1. The structure was demolished in late 2013 and an Urban Plaza now sits in its place. After Brown, Ed Kurtz was tapped as new emergency manager. He appointed Brown city administrator. The Flint City Council filed suit against Kurtz’s appointment and in November, Michigan voters overturned Public Act 4. The state simply shrugged its shoulders and approved a replacement law (Public Act 436) the next month. Flint really began to seethe. As 2013 began, the Flint Police Officers Association were the next to file suit against the state, citing pay cuts and loss of officers impacting the city’s crime rate. The next month, Kurtz resigned as emergency manager. Brown was, once again, appointed emergency manager only to resign after two months. When 2014 began, Darnell Earley was the acting emergency manager. Flint’s emergency management concluded in 2015, but the city remained in state receivership until 2018.
As part of the emergency managers’ cost-cutting plan, seven more schools were closed between 2012-15: McKinley Middle School, Bryant Elementary, Carpenter Road, Dort, Washington, Zimmerman and, in 2014, storied Northern High. While these schools were closing, Powers Catholic High School made the move to its new location, next to the Michigan School for the Deaf, in 2013.
Despite all of the governmental aches and pains, the Flint community decided to move forward on their own. Mayor Dayne Walling, the City Council, City Staff and Planning Commission, Master Plan Steering Committee and the residents of Flint worked together to create a new master plan for the city and its future. The plan reimagines a self-sustainable Flint that includes production hubs, green space, traditional and mixed neighborhoods, cultural centers, green innovation (industry) centers, and rich, supportive areas of commerce. The plan was adopted in October 2013.
“Flint is a city poised and ready for transformation. A city committed to reinventing itself by building upon its rich history, strong character, and enduring work ethic. A city eager to once again stand as a symbol to the nation as to what hard work, ingenuity, and commitment can achieve. Flint is a city dedicated to forging innovation and creativity into a city of new opportunity, vitality, and livability.” – From Master Plan for a Sustainable Flint, 2013
With the plan ready to go, Flint got off to a great start when, in 2014, the new and award-winning Flint Farmers’ Market was built in Downtown and then again that same year, when Michigan State University moved into the city, occupying the abandoned Flint Journal building. Flint was now a four-college town and beginning to attract young talent from all over the globe.
2015-19: Tragedy and Strength
While under state control, Flint emergency managers and officials looked for any possible way to save money. Flint’s water supply was provided by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) and was considered to be very costly. Water had to be cheaper elsewhere, and an alternative was found – Flint could build its own pipeline to the Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA). Future savings for this endeavor was estimated at $200 million over the course of 25 years. Emergency Manager, Ed Kurtz, announced to the state treasurer that Flint would join the KWA. A day later, Detroit sent a letter informing Kurtz that it would terminate Flint’s contract in 2014, one full year before the pipeline to KWA was to be completed. Negotiations commenced with Detroit for an additional year, but was deemed too costly. Instead, then Emergency Manager, Darnell Earley, in accordance with a plan put in place by Kurtz in 2013, decided to source water from the Flint river using the Flint Water Treatment Plant.
“Thank you for the correspondence dated February 12, 2014 which provides Flint with the option of continuing to purchase water from DWSD following the termination of the current contract as of April 17, 2014. Following DWSD’s April 17, 2013 notice of termination of the water service contract between the City of Flint and DWSD, the City of Flint has actively pursued using the Flint River as a temporary water source while the KWA pipeline is being constructed. We expect that the Flint Water Treatment Plant will be fully operational and capable of treating Flint River water prior to the date of termination. In that case, there will be no need for Flint to continue purchasing water to serve its residents and businesses after April 17, 2014.”- Darnell Earley in a letter to Sue McCormick of DWSD
Amid much fanfare, the switch to the Flint River was made on April 25, 2014. As a way to ease residents’ tension about the switch, the Michigan DEQ assured residents that the water was clean and safe to consume, with then Mayor Walling taking a drink and stating, “It’s regular, good, pure drinking water, this is the first step in the right direction for Flint.” A month later, city residents began to complain about the odor and color of the new water. In August, the first Boil Water Advisory was issued to the city of Flint as dangerous bacteria was detected. In October, the most telling sign of a major problem came about when General Motors stopped using Flint water completely, due to corrosion of parts. If the water was corroding the metal parts in GM machines, one had to wonder what it was doing to the pipes in Flint houses.
In early 2015, the DWSD offered to reconnect the city and officials again declined. The community again, took matters into their own hands by bringing bottles of discolored water to city meetings. One resident, Lee-Anne Walters, contacted the EPA claiming the water made her children sick. The EPA detected extremely high amounts of lead in her water and immediately notified the Michigan DEQ. The Flint City Council voted to stop using the river water but was overruled by Emergency Manager, Jerry Ambrose, due to expense. Next, a group of clergymen and activists filed a lawsuit against the city, charging that the water was a health risk. The case was dismissed. In September, a team from Virginia Tech found a serious problem with lead levels in the water of Flint homes. Shortly thereafter, a research team led by Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha at Hurley Medical Center released a study revealing that the number of children with elevated levels of lead in their blood doubled after the shift to the Flint River. The evidence could no longer be ignored. A month later, Flint reconnected to the Detroit water pipeline – but the damage had already been done.
In late 2015, the Flint mayoral election was a showdown between incumbent Dayne Walling and challenger, Karen Weaver. When the votes were counted, Weaver became the first female mayor of Flint and got to work pressuring the state for help dealing with the effects of the water crisis. The state responded with water and water filters, but more needed to be done. Celebrities and philanthropists migrated to Flint in an attempt to help the population. Charitable organizations such as the Convoy of Hope arrived and Flint residents again, dusted themselves off, banded together and worked to help the city. Flint may never again trust what comes out of the tap, but they have found a renewed trust in each other. The city continued to move forward despite this new obstacle.
In true Flint fashion, the city carried on. In early 2015, a group of beer lovers had a plan. Robb and Tamra Klaty, Jeff and Melissa Rasmussen, Janet Van De Winkle and Jason Caya banded together to open the city’s first brewery since the early 1940s – Tenacity Brewing. The business has become a Downtown staple. In an attempt to re-use the brownfields that GM left behind, construction began on the old automobile manufacturing site known as Chevy-in-the-Hole. Dubbed Chevy Commons, the area will be turned into a new city greenspace akin to that of Central Park in New York and is well underway.
Also, in the summer of 2015, local philanthropist, Dr. Jawad Shah purchased the empty George M. Dewey Elementary School in the underserved north end of Flint. There, he started the Sylvester Broome Empowerment Village, a local community hub featuring a multitude of community programs to benefit area youth. In 2016, Pastor Robert Sherman McCathern started the Urban Renaissance Center in the old Civic Park neighborhood and has been instrumental in reviving its sense of history and community. In 2017, as a sign of the city’s renaissance, The Capitol Theatre reopened its doors after years of renovation. It has become an active place for entertainment and nightlife. In spite of all this positivity, Flint still had history to let go. In 2018, Northwestern High School was closed and all students moved to Southwestern Academy. In the final year of the decade, Flint continued to grow. Businesses continued to open and improvements were made. Artists were brought in to beautify the city by painting over 100 murals, and the city even received its first professional soccer team – the Flint City Bucks – who in their inaugural year won the league National Championship played at newly renovated Atwood Stadium.
Flint citizens have taken the last five years of the decade for themselves and joined together in the effort to move the city into the future. Despite all that has happened, Flint continues to do what it does best – work hard and rely on community.
Other Notable Events Timeline
- My City Magazine publishes inaugural issue
- UM-Flint takes ownership of the Riverfront Center
- Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump visit Flint on the campaign trail
- Ferris Wheel Business Innovation Center opens
- Original Flint YWCA building is demolished
Buckham Gallery moves to new location
Flint Cultural Center Academy opens
General Motors workers go on strike
Adams, D. (2013). A timeline of state control over Flint. Mlive.com. Retrieved from mlive.com/news/flint/2013/09/a_look_at_michael_browns_tenur.html
CNN Library. (2019). Flint water crisis fast facts. CNN.com. Retrieved from cnn.com/2016/03/04/us/flint-water-crisis-fast-facts/index.html
Earley, D. (2014). Letter from Darnell Earley to Sue McCormick. Retrieved from mediad.publicbroadcasting.net/p/michigan/files/201512/earlely_letter.pdf?_ga=1.224901786.1036207224.1446746452
Fonger, R. (2013). Detroit gives notice…in one year. Mlive.com. Retrieved from mlive.com/news/flint/2013/04/detroit_gives_notice_its_termi.html
Imagine Flint. (2013). Master plan for a sustainable Flint. Houseal Lavigne Associates. Retrieved from cityofflint.com/wp-content/uploads/Flint%20Master%20Plan%20Summary.pdf
Kennedy, M. (2016). Lead-laced water in flint. NPR. Retrieved from npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/04/20/465545378/lead-laced-water-in-flint-a-step-by-step-look-at-the-makings-of-a-crisis
Kurtz, E. J. (2013). Resolution authorizing approval to enter…Flint Water Plant into operation. Retrieved from mediad.publicbroadcasting.net/p/michigan/files/201512/water_plan_resolution.pdf?_ga=1.129405580.1036207224.1446746452
Longley, K. (2012). Flint emergency manager changes union contracts. Mlive.com. Retrieved from mlive.com/news/flint/2012/04/emergency_manager_orders_budge.html
Longley, K. (2012). Genesee Towers to be demolished. Mlive.com. Retrieved from mlive.com/news/flint/2012/08/genesee_towers_to_be_demolishe.html