Kary L. Moss


The Detroit News - - Front Page -

The Flint Wa­ter Cri­sis might never have be­come The Flint Wa­ter Cri­sis — at least as we’ve come to know it — had Kary Moss not made an unortho­dox de­ci­sion.

Res­i­dents in the be­lea­guered city were un­der the di­rec­tion of an emer­gency fi­nan­cial man­ager ap­pointed by Gov. Rick Sny­der, and in the spring of 2014, they also found them­selves pay­ing ex­or­bi­tant wa­ter bills. Soon af­ter, they be­gan re­port­ing rashes and other skin ir­ri­ta­tions they be­lieved were linked to their drink­ing wa­ter.

As ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the ACLU of Michi­gan, Moss had fa­mil­iar tools at her dis­posal: lit­i­ga­tion, lob­by­ing or even a pub­lic re­la­tions cam­paign. But for Flint, she opted for jour­nal­ism, dis­patch­ing the ACLU’s in-house in­ves­tiga­tive re­porter Curt Guyette to dig into what the res­i­dents were deal­ing with.

To that point, Guyette had been re­port­ing on Detroit’s bank­ruptcy, but once the calls from Flint be­gan pour­ing in, Moss re­as­signed the vet­eran jour­nal­ist.

“And Curt just went af­ter it,” Moss said. “He just went up there reg­u­larly, at­tend­ing pub­lic hear­ings, and he be­gan to meet res­i­dents and get the story about what hap­pened.”

What hap­pened has now be­come well-known, but at the time of the ACLU’s en­try into the picture, much was still un­clear. Fol­low­ing the emer­gency man­ager’s de­ci­sion to uti­lize the Flint River as a wa­ter source, state of­fi­cials con­tin­u­ously told res­i­dents their tap wa­ter was safe.


Along with the tire­less work of res­i­dents, Guyette’s re­port­ing and hus­tle helped prove that was not the case, and it also pulled back the cur­tain on state of­fi­cials’ ques­tion­able de­ci­sion-mak­ing through­out the process. What re­sulted was in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion on the plight of res­i­dents who couldn’t con­trol what was hap­pen­ing to them. “That loss of democ­racy and what does it mean for peo­ple ev­ery sin­gle day when they are try­ing to ac­cess pub­lic ser­vices and get the ba­sic ne­ces­si­ties of life,” Guyette said, “there was a story there that, fun­da­men­tally, we thought needed to be in­ves­ti­gated and told.”

The ACLU’s work didn’t stop with re­port­ing. In the midst of the cri­sis, the civil rights group opened an of­fice in Flint and joined with the Nat­u­ral Re­sources De­fense Coun­cil in a law­suit to have the city’s lead ser­vice lines re­placed.

Moss, who misses no op­por­tu­nity to credit her ACLU team for its work, con­tin­ues to ad­vo­cate for what Flint’s most vul­ner­a­ble res­i­dents need.

“We also filed lit­i­ga­tion over the qual­ity of the pub­lic schools in Flint be­cause most of the chil­dren who were ex­posed to lead have not been tested for whether or not they have any ed­u­ca­tional dis­abil­i­ties,” said Moss, 58. “So th­ese prob­lems they face are not go­ing to go away — cer­tainly if they’re not di­ag­nosed and cer­tainly if they are not treated.” Fam­ily: Hus­band, Doug Baker; one adult daugh­ter Why hon­ored: For fo­cus­ing at­ten­tion on the Flint wa­ter cri­sis

Jim Lynch

Max Or­tiz / The Detroit News

Kary Moss has served as the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the ACLU of Michi­gan since 1998. She also clerked in the U.S. Court of Ap­peals for the 2nd Cir­cuit and is the au­thor of sev­eral books.

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