The water crisis in my hometown of Flint, MI is a classic example of what can and often does go wrong when communities privatize their public services. In case you have not seen the news coverage, the water supply in this Michigan city of over 100,000 people has been rendered unfit to drink or even use for cooking and bathing because of the presence of massive amounts of lead and several toxic chemicals. The immediate cause of the catastrophe was the switch in 2014 from using the great lakes water supplied from Detroit – Flint’s neighbor to the south – to using Flint River water, long known to be polluted. The chain of causation however, leads right to the governor’s office. For, even though the public decision to change the water supply was made by City Manager Darnell Early it was the governor, Rick Snyder, who appointed him to run the city’s affairs. Snyder gave him sole executive power in Flint, even though there were already duly elected officials in the city. Snyder himself never held public office until Michigan elected him in 2010 having spent his entire working life in the corporate world.
When elected in 2010 Snyder brought with him the vey mistaken philosophy that a governmental entity can (and should) be run like a business. That same philosophy is at work in Broome County where at least two county legislators have been quoted as saying the same thing. That philosophy very often leads to disaster and, it certainly did in Flint. Early (and Snyder) made the decision to change the water source in order to “save” $2 million per year. Apparently neither of them asked the question of whether or not the decision was the right one for the residents of the city.
In Broome County the switch from using county employees to cook meals for hundreds of county residents to private corporate giant Aramark is a prime example. All but one brave soul voted for the privatization at the last hearing on the subject. At some point on down the line, given Aramark’s poor reputation, the food served is likely to “go sour.” Let’s hope no one in our community suffers catastrophic consequences from that event similar to what has happened in Flint.
One legislator called me a fear monger for recently sounding the alarm bell on Aramark. I look at my offering as more of a fact monger. Predicting what is likely to happen based upon what has already happened elsewhere seems to me to be a sensible course. I wish more local officials would make decisions using that formula and not an ideological one of “government is bad and privatizing public services is good.”