Flint Official Resigns After Using N-Word to Describe Residents Who Caused the Water Crisis

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A Flint, Mich., official reportedly said Blacks not paying their water bills caused the city’s water crisis. Photo by Carlos Osorio/AP.

A Flint, Mich., official resigned his position after a recording of him blaming the recent water crisis on Black people, whom he described using the n-word, was made public.

Michele Wildman, executive director of the Genesee County Land Bank, told the Genesee County Board of Commissioners in a meeting on June 5, one day after the recording was made public, that she accepted the resignation of Phil Stair, a sales manager at the Land Bank, MLive reported.

Stair, who is white, was reportedly recorded at a restaurant on May 26 by Chelsea Lyons, an environmental activist and a journalist at the Truth Against The Machine, a progressive platform for independent journalists, which posted the recording. The group said Stair had met Lyons, who also is white, and another individual that night, but it is unclear whether Stair knew he was being recorded.

“Flint has the same problems as Detroit — f—ing n—–s don’t pay their bills, believe me, I deal with them,” Stair is heard saying in the audio recording.

Created in 2004 as a response by the Michigan legislature to the state’s foreclosure problems, the Flint-based Land Bank works with the Genesee County treasurer to encourage reinvestment in the more than 4,000 tax-foreclosed properties it has acquired over the years through partnerships with public, private and nonprofit sectors.

The release of the recording was met with immediate outrage.

Rep. Dan Kildee, whose congressional district includes Flint, condemned Stair’s comments in a Twitter post.

Wildman told county commissioners she accepted Stair’s resignation and apologized for his comments. Earlier in the morning, Michigan Radio reported, a small crowd holding signs and calling for his resignation had gathered in front of her office.

“I am deeply troubled by [the statements],” she said, according to MLive. “The citizens of Flint deserve to have trust in their public officials.”

Lyons, who made the recording, said the Land Bank and the process by which it goes about acquiring land is a cause for concern in the city.

“The Land Bank is taking up all of the properties in Flint. … They are pushing people out of neighborhood,” she told MLive.

A Michigan Civil Rights Commission report issued in February determined that systemic racism over the course of decades was at the core of the problems that caused the water crisis in Flint, where 56 percent of the population of nearly 98,000 residents is Black.

Flint found itself in the midst of a water contamination crisis after local officials switched the city’s water supply to the highly polluted Flint River in April 2014, causing toxic lead to leach into the water supply. It took state officials, including Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, nearly three months to notify residents that their water had been tainted. More than a dozen officials were charged with crimes related to the disaster, which resulted in residents inability to drink the city’s water.

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