On the same day that he refused to testify before Congress on his role in the Flint water crisis, Detroit Public Schools emergency manager Darnell Earley announced he would resign as leader of the embattled school district effective February 29.
Earley, who served as Flint's emergency manager from September 2013 until January 2015, was one of five witnesses invited to testify before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on Wednesday, as the lead-poisoning scandal continues to unfold.
His refusal to speak to the committee drew immediate fire from elected officials and community leaders alike.
"Children in Flint are having their blood tested, families must have their water tested and yet Darnell Earley is refusing to face the simple test of answering questions about his involvement and knowledge of what happened in Flint," said Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan. "People in Flint deserve to know the truth about how their water was poisoned but Darnell Earley doesn’t think the people deserve the truth."
U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) also slammed Earley's decision, declaring in a statement:
At Wednesday's hearing, we won't hear from the governor, any of the emergency managers he appointed in Flint, or anyone else from the state who was involved in making decisions that led to this crisis.
In our search for the truth, we must hear from everyone involved to understand what happened. Having such a one-sided hearing undermines the credibility of the committee and subjects the committee to accusations of partisanship. No matter who is responsible, the people of Flint deserve a comprehensive investigation that gets them answers—not a partisan effort to protect the governor and others who brought about this crisis.
Meanwhile, state Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, a Democrat who represents Flint, said that Earley's resignation from his position within Detroit Public Schools (DPS) should "in no way allow him to dodge his responsibility to fully comply with every investigation about his role in the Flint water crisis. The governor must demand that he testify before Congress tomorrow and be completely transparent in turning over every document related to what happened."
"The public also has a right to know all the details about his severance package, contract terms and any nondisclosure agreement," added Ananich. "Make no mistake, this announcement today was not motivated by what is best for the children—it was about saving face for the politicians who are worried about what he might reveal under oath."
"As emergency manager, Earley has shown a willful and deliberate indifference to our schools' increasingly unsafe and unhealthy conditions, and a blatant disrespect for the teachers, school employees, parents, and students of our city," she said.
Over the past few months, Detroit teachers have held a series of "sick-outs" calling attention to what they describe as deplorable conditions, overcrowded classrooms, and inadequate funding. On top of that, the Detroit Federation of Teachers filed a lawsuit last week demanding that a judge remove Earley from his post.
"We are charging that the DPS and Darnell Earley have let the fiscal situation and the environmental conditions of the schools to deteriorate so severely that Detroit is not providing a minimally sufficient education," American Federation of Teachers representative Ann Mitchell said at a press conference.
But in a news release announcing his departure, Earley made no reference to this unrest, saying instead:
When I was appointed to this position, Gov. Snyder and I agreed that our goal was for me to be the last emergency manager appointed to DPS. I have completed the comprehensive restructuring, necessary to downsizing the central office, and the development of a network structure that empowers the educational leadership of our schools to direct more resources toward classroom instruction. This and other initiatives implemented over the past year were completed ahead of my 18-month schedule.
Citing the sick-outs and recent DPS building inspections, Keith Owens writes for the Michigan Chronicle, "bragging about these sorts of accomplishments that were achieved at DPS at this particular date makes about as much sense as bragging about how much money was saved in Flint by poisoning the population."
Beyond Earley's involvement, both situations have at least one other thing in common: the appointment of emergency managers by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. As ACLU of Michigan executive director Kary Moss wrote last month, the state's emergency manager law "gives a political appointee unfettered power to make decisions that will affect a community, without democratic accountability. This lack of check and balances on government is a civil rights issue."
In a statement Tuesday, Snyder said he will appoint a transition leader before the end of the month to set in place his plan to restructure DPS to address the district’s academics and finances.
But former Detroit Federation of Teachers president Steve Conn told The Detroit News, "we won’t be satisfied until the full democratic rights are returned to the people of Detroit. And we won’t accept any replacement for a new emergency manager."
Added Bailey: "Appointing another emergency manager won't fix Detroit's education crisis. Now is the time for DPS to have an elected school board that answers to the people of this great city."
Or as Owens said, "Darnell Earley was a symptom. Emergency management was—and is—the problem."