Gov. Rick Snyder's departing chief of staff believed it was a mistake to replace Michigan's environmental director over the lead-contaminated drinking water crisis in Flint, according to an email made public Saturday.
Dennis Muchmore expressed his disappointment the same day Dan Wyant resigned as director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. Wyant stepped down as a task force appointed by the Republican governor released a letter saying the agency was the primary culprit in the financially struggling city's water disaster.
"You didn't ask me so I'm just being a Monday morning QB, but Dan is one of the most exceptional directors in state government history over the last 40 years ... and has brought a level of professionalism and expertise to everything he's ever done," Muchmore, who was preparing to leave his job with the governor to join a law firm, wrote in a Dec. 29 email to his successor, Jarrod Agen.
The email was among thousands released Friday and Saturday by Snyder's administration in response to demands for openness about the debacle. Other emails suggest some Republican lawmakers also were surprised by Wyant's departure and suggested it was political.
The task force's letter, released the same day Wyant resigned, said DEQ personnel erred by failing to order Flint officials to treat the water with anti-corrosive chemicals after switching from Detroit's water system — which drew from Lake Huron and used corrosion controls — to the Flint River as a cost-cutting move in April 2014.
The letter also said DEQ personnel had lapsed into a culture of "technical compliance" with federal water safety regulations and lost sight of the big-picture needed to "protect Michigan's citizens."
Wyant was head of the Department of Agriculture under Republican Gov. John Engler and Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm before Snyder named him DEQ chief. Supporters praised him for seeking a balance between environmental protection and economic development, but environmentalists often complained the DEQ under Wyant was too business-friendly — and pressure on him mounted as the Flint disaster intensified.
But in his email, Muchmore said the focus should be on fixing Flint's problems instead of pointing fingers.
"I'm not sure why this decision was made but if it's only optics, keep in mind that finding a replacement who has the trust of the business community will be very difficult," he said.
Agen replied, saying he didn't disagree with Muchmore. He said the decision had been made quickly, and then added without elaborating: "It was not just optics, but I can get into more when we next talk."
The department's top spokesman also resigned, and two other officials have been suspended.
Keith Creagh, then director of the Department of Natural Resources, was named interim head of environmental quality. Muchmore praised the choice in another email to Agen, but said he "would hope the DNR doesn't get dragged down because of the DEQ issues."
"My guess is that this may set off some further rumblings and cause some other department heads to rethink their security," Muchmore wrote.
Other emails suggest that Wyant's departure also was unpopular with some Republican legislators. Darin Ackerman, deputy director of legislative affairs, reported in an email to Agen that Republican Sen. Jim Stamas of Midland had conveyed this message: "wanted to pass along my STRONG DISAPPOINTMENT with the resignation on Director Wyant. This is pure Dem politic (sic), not an acceptable way to move our state forward."
Ackerman suggested delivering a "supplementary message" to other GOP lawmakers through some "direct & discreet means."
Agen responded, "I appreciate their support of Dan, but we cannot just say this is dem politics."
Stamas recently was named co-chair of a new House-Senate committee that will look into the Flint crisis and recommend policy changes after other investigations are finished.
Associated Press writers David Eggert in Lansing and Roger Schneider in Detroit contributed to this story.