FLINT, MI — City Council members remain divided on whether to settle lawsuits related to the Flint water crisis, recessing its meeting on Monday, Dec. 14, after members failed to reach an agreement after more than six hours of debate.
The Flint City Council is scheduled to try again when the meeting resumes Thursday, Dec. 17., while attorneys involved in the proposed $641-million settlement are warning that changing the deal that took years to negotiate isn’t an option.
“This settlement is really a bugger… We have an obligation to protect the municipality, but we have an obligation to protect residents,” Council President Kate Fields said.
Fields proposed a conditional acceptance of the city’s portion of the settlement — a payment of $20 million to residents who have sued the city for its role in the water crisis — during Monday’s lengthy meeting.
But attorneys for the city and those who represent the residents immediately said that the time to make changes has passed, and Flint officials have just two choices: agree to settle more than 100 lawsuits against it in state and federal courts or prepare to defend them in trials.
“While we believe it would be in the best interest of the citizens of Flint for the city to participate in the settlement, we are confident that a global settlement will go forward either with or without the city’s participation,” attorneys Corey Stern and Ted Leopold wrote to Flint officials Monday. “If the city choses not to participate we are confident that the individual trials and the class case against the city for its role in causing the water crisis will yield significantly in excess of $20 million.”
Stern and Leopold are among the lead attorneys in water litigation against the city, the state of Michigan, city contractors and others accused of contributing to the water crisis, which caused elevate levels of lead, bacteria and chlorination byproducts in city water.
In August, the state announced it would settle the cases against it for $600 million and asked others accused of wrongdoing to join in the arrangement.
McLaren Regional Hospital, Rowe Professional Services and the city agreed to join in the settlement, boosting the available cash for distribution to $641 million, but the council approval is required for Flint’s participation to stick.
In exchange for $20 million provided by a city insurance carrier, Flint would be excused from the lawsuits against it and avoid the attorney fees and cost of potential judgements if the cases go to trial.
Several council members have said they can’t sign onto the city’s portion of the deal because they want the overall settlement changed to provide residents with more money, a different distribution formula or both.
“I just feel like the whole thing has been done under the table… The lawyers, to me, are not being truthful. I’m not for it,” said 5th Ward Councilwoman Jerri Winfrey-Carter. “I feel like the state gave us a raw deal….