Health Org: Prosecuting Lyon Could Cause ‘Threat’ Nationwide
A non-profit organization representing health agencies and public health professionals says holding state Department of Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon criminally responsible for actions done in his professional responsibility could “cause a threat to public health nationwide.”
A second nonprofit organization disagreed with criticism of criminal accountability for the Flint water crisis.
The two statements came in amicus curiae briefs filed by the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) and Community Based Organizing Partners (CBOP), respectively, just two days before Lyon learns if he will head to trial on felony criminal charges for decisions he made during Flint’s Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks in 2014 and 2015.
“This prosecution greatly concerns ASTHO and its members, who fear that the criminalization of professional, discretionary decision making will harm, not help, public health,” ASTHO’s attorney Jeffrey Muth, of Grand Rapids, says in a court filing. “. . . In seeking to punish public health officials for their administration of their professional responsibilities, this case could cause a threat to public health nationwide.”
Flint-based CBOP’s brief from East Lansing Attorney Mark A. Totten stated: “Several voices—the well-connected, who neither live in Flint nor experienced this horror—have publicly criticized the idea of criminal accountability for the Flint water crisis. CBOP . . . believes a thorough examination by the criminal justice system is fitting and necessary.”
The prosecution alleges the totality of its evidence shows Lyon had a “willful disregard” someone would get sick or die from Legionnaires’ disease and he failed to promptly notify the public when he first learned about the crisis in late January 2015.
The defense argued Lyon has no “personal, individualized legal duty by statute or otherwise” to notify the public about the outbreaks.
Lyon is charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter in connection with the deaths of two men and misconduct in office for allegedly misleading and withholding information from Gov. Rick Snyder about the outbreak. He also is charged with a misdemeanor count of neglect of duty.
Flint District Judge David Goggins is expected to announce Wednesday whether Lyon will head to trial.
ASTHO, a national nonprofit organization representing health agencies and public health professionals, argues a cautious approach that considers the circumstances of the outbreak and the type of disease is needed.
CBOP, a nonprofit organization in Flint that includes members from more than 50 local organizations focusing on diverse issues including public health, education and civil rights, filed a brief to “assist the court in understanding the crime of misconduct in office,” and specifically notes the court filing isn’t assessing the prosecution’s evidence nor addressing the other crimes alleged.
CBOP said the crime of misconduct in office hasn’t receives extensive attention by the courts, yet it is a “critical means of government accountability.”
To prove that count, the prosecution must establish that the defendant is a public officer who committed misconduct in the exercise of official duties while acting with corrupt intent. Misconduct can take the form of malfeasance, misfeasance or nonfeasance.
“The offense is broad, covering a wide range of government actors who purposefully commit misconduct, including a failure to carry-out a non-ministerial duty,” Totten said. “As a first-hand witness to the havoc caused by the Flint water crisis, the amicus curiae believe this robust crime must be applied with thoroughness and rigor to determine criminal liability for this crisis.”
Pfizer Scores First ‘Good Jobs For Michigan’ Incentive
The state July 24 pulled the “Good Jobs For Michigan” (GJFM) tool out of its economic development toolbox for the first time since Gov. Rick Snyder signed the legislation in 2017 in an attempt to lure big corporate fish to Michigan.
The Michigan Strategic Fund (MSF) Board today approved a GJFM incentive worth $10.5 million for Pfizer to build a new facility in Portage to manufacture injectable drugs.
Last year, Snyder and a coalition of supporters convinced the Legislature to adopt what was dubbed the GJFM package, which would allow companies awarded the incentive to capture income tax withholdings off the created jobs if they pay above the average regional wage.
It was believed a driving factor behind the legislation was to lure the Taiwan electronics manufacturer Foxconn to Michigan. The company best known for being an Apple product supplier was dangling a facility to U.S. states that would employ thousands of people.
But on the same day Snyder signed the GJFM package, Foxconn announced Wisconsin as its site for its plant.
Under GJFM legislation, if a project creates 250 to 500 jobs, those jobs must pay wages that are 125 percent more than the average regional wage. For projects creating 500-plus jobs, those have to pay 100 percent or more of the average regional wage.
In Pfizer’s case, the company was granted 100 percent withholding capture for 354 new jobs, with the average wage of those jobs landing around $80,000. If the company didn’t end up paying high enough wages, it would affect the incentive it would receive.
The Pfizer project is expected to deliver 450 jobs within the next eight years and generate $465 million in private investment.
“Pfizer’s investment is a major boost to the state’s pharmaceutical industry and further diversifies Michigan’s business environment,” said Snyder in a press release. “I appreciate Pfizer’s long-term commitment and the economic benefits this will bring to the region and the people who live there.”
The GJFM coalition, which includes business and economic development, community and labor groups, released a statement today noting that the Pfizer project is “exactly the type of transformational project this latest tool was designed to attract—with hundreds of good-paying jobs and opportunities for Michiganders that will also help bolster communities, advance quality of life and build a strong, resilient economy for current and future generations.”
The $10.5 million awarded via the GJFM incentive comes on top of a $1 million performance-based grant awarded to Pfizer for the same project, also approved by the MSF Board.
Jeff Mason, CEO of the Michigan Economic Development Corp. (MEDC), said Pfizer has 13 facilities around the globe, so this project was competing with its other company sites, which necessitated the use of the GJFM package.
According to the MEDC briefing memo on the Pfizer incentive, for the project to be “cost competitive it must remain financially viable compared to other Pfizer sites, contracted manufacturing sites” and the company’s competitors.
U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph) also released a statement celebrating the Pfizer project.
Under the GJFM package, the MSF Board is allowed to execute up to 15 written agreements per calendar year, and the program has a $200 million cap and ends at the end of December 2019.
Lansing Lines is a cooperative feature presented by MIRS, a Lansing-based news and information service and Healthcare Michigan.