Flint’s task of rectifying the negative impacts stemming from its water contamination crisis continues to leave the city’s citizens desperate for solutions. On top of that, they have become increasingly aware of how little information they receive about why Flint’s elected officials make certain decisions.
This feeling is especially salient in the face of recent news from Flint Mayor Karen Weaver that citizens should expect it will be another two years before Flint can produce its own clean water. Luckily, Flint residents have a better chance of getting what they want thanks to federal requirements from the EPA that require the city to involve citizens in the process of deciding the city’s primary and back-up water sources. Tactics to date include community conversations, mailings, press releases, publication distribution, and presentations at state and city committee meetings.
Notably, its pending community engagement strategy is to gather cost and technical feasibility details from potential providers and then facilitate public participation. Specifically, residents will be encouraged to share their opinions on the alternatives being considered – they do this either by attending a town hall meeting, by email, or in writing.
It remains to be seen how many citizens take advantage of this opportunity to be part of the decision-making process. With nearly half of Flint households lacking access to internet, one can surmise that neither email nor town hall participation are likely to host significant attendance. Nevertheless, this community engagement example demonstrates not only the value of gaining resident buy-in at the outset of a public administration decision, but it also shows the power federal agencies can have in requiring participation when local governments fail to make decisions that are in the interest of their citizens.