In covering Flint for over a month now including a press conference, town hall, city council meeting, multiple protests, and conducting many interviews with residents and government employees, a clear trend has presented itself.
The people who are fighting, who’ve been fighting since the beginning of the water crisis in 2014, have been forthcoming and factual. They feel as though they’ve been abandoned by their government, and the corporate media. When a journalist comes around, there’s a queue of citizens who speak up and speak out, because once all the mainstream media left, they had no outlet to express the injustices they’ve been subjected to.
So, when someone refuses questioning, it raises alarm bells. But that’s exactly what David Sabuda, the Interim Financial Director, or CFO, of Flint did when I approached him at a recent town hall.
He has a record of consistently acting on behalf of the Snyder administration, defending egregious inaction by the state concerning the water crisis since his hiring in June 2016.
Sabuda acts as a mediator between Snyder and city interests, passing down the word of the governor’s office to be implemented on-the-ground in Flint.
According to the Detroit Free Press, the state has estimated that home delivery of water in Flint would cost $9 million a month, which Sabuda said would drain the city’s water fund dry in a month and a half, and severely impact the city’s budget.
He has testified in defense of the City’s and State’s non-compliance of the Judge-ordered, door-to-door delivery of bottled water to Flint residents.
“It would be devastating,” Sabuda said.
“Devastating” to pay for home delivery? The devastation came when Flint residents were poisoned, and then forced out of their homes when they don’t pay for toxic water.
As for the city’s budget, Mr. Sabuda himself accepted a $40,000 raise from the previous CFO’s salary-he makes over $133,000 a year before benefits from city taxpayer money—more than Flint Mayor Karen Weaver. Now obviously, there’s a big gap between $9 million and a $40,000 raise.
However, Sabuda wasn’t the only government official to get a pay raise during the crisis. In Flint, mis-allocated funds are everywhere, and go hand-in-hand with the corruption that’s run amok in Michigan for decades.
But local and state officials here are used to operating without scrutiny from the media. There’s a lot to be found just under the surface, as long as you’re willing to dig.
Sabuda is also heavily involved with a state organization that, if libertarians knew of its operation, would make their heads explode.
The Receivership Transition Advisory Board (RTAB) exists to vote on whether or not elected Flint officials get to do their jobs. The Snyder-appointed team meets every few weeks and has the ability to dissolve resolutions passed by the Flint City Council and Flint Mayor.
Translated: overrule the Mayor and City Council.
[BEAT THE PRESS: DONATE TO TATM TO HELP FUND REPORTERS LIKE CARLY STAY ON THE FLINT WATER CRISIS STORY.]
They are an appointed, unelected, voting body paid by the State of Michigan to keep the Snyder administration—the same one that poisoned Flint—in control of the city.
It’s the closest thing to a ‘shadow government’ I’ve ever seen.
They have no listed email, no listed phone number, and their offices are supposedly in Lansing, but no address is listed. While the RTAB is supposed to comply with Michigan’s Open Meetings Act of 1974, not one resident I’ve spoken to has been able to attend a meeting, which are held on the second Wednesday of every month at 2pm.
However, they do comply with the stipulation that they have to provide transcripts of their meetings to the public- also known as the meeting minutes.
Public documents of meeting minutes with the Snyder-appointed Receivership Transition Advisory Board (RTAB) demonstrate Sabuda’s lack of concern for the residents he’s paid $64/hour to represent.
Transcripts show his support and advocacy of bullying tactics to get poisoned Flint residents to pay up on late, undrinkable water bills.
“As I reported last month on the water collection piece, we are holding our own on water collections. On the last few months we have started to turn off water on the residential side and we’ve seen our residential collections pick up dramatically,” Sabuda said, according to the RTAB Meeting Minutes on April 12th, 2017.
He continued: “I would say for the last month of collection I looked at, which would be March, will be about 68 percent collected; on the commercial side over 100 percent collected for March, which is really, really good. But as you know, credits are ended, have ended as of February 28th. Those will be reflected on the March bill. After that there will be no more credits being applied to individual customer accounts. Those who have credits on their account will keep those credits and then they will burn through them as live progresses.”
Sabuda proposed the tax lien idea to the board and encouraged the use of delinquent property taxes to boost city revenue:
“What we’ll do is if we don’t get paid, whether it’s a commercial customer or it’s a residential customer, we will place water, that balance that is eligible underneath the law, we will put that on the tax bill.” -David Sabuda, RTAB Meeting Minutes April 12th, 2017 (a fuller transcript of Sabuda’s comments are at the bottom of this story)
In defense of his policy of shutting off water and threatening residents, he says
“We are willing to work with residents unable to meet the full terms of the payment requirement, but we City officials must also show the state that our customers are paying for the services we provide,” -David Sabuda, as quoted on Michigan Radio http://michiganradio.org/post/flint-residential-water-customers-face-choice-pay-or-risk-shutoff
Sabuda shows with his own statements that he’s completely remorseless to Flint residents’ predicaments, and clueless that the “water services” provided by the state are what poisoned residents in the first place. He, like a sea of other selfish “public servants” shows a willingness to rob money from the poor in order to pay for tax cuts for the rich and corporate welfare.
His lack of ability to answer for his own actions highlights his lack of concern for the Flint citizens who have every right to question the administration that’s been consistently poisoning them and their children, meanwhile spending millions on a PR campaign to convince residents that all their physical ailments are just a figment of their imagination (and forcing taxpayers to may millions for Governor Snyder’s criminal defense fund).
This video from TYT Politics exposes the out-of-touch attitude of Sabuda, an appointed official who makes a six-figure salary while Flint suffers from poverty and poison.
People like David Sabuda want the media to go away, to back down, to be complacent.
We’re not going anywhere.
MR. FINNEY: And then the last question, with respect to the water fund and the collection activity that’s going on, it certainly sounds like a lot of improvement has been made. That’s great. Have there been any shut-offs at all?
MR. SABUDA: Yes. So, we’ve done this in phases. We started with the commercial piece first. What we do is we reach out to the owners on the commercial side. We then, if we get no justice as far as payment goes —— and remember now what we’re asking for is current balance, current due plus 10 percent of your outstanding balance. That’s what we’re asking for. And if you do that we consider you paid in full and we will not charge any interest or penalty on your outstanding balance. So —— and that goes for both commercial and residential customers.
So, on the commercial side what we do is we reach out to them via telephone, letter or usually it’s an e—mail, e—mail or telephone call. If we don’t get a response back we go out and we post the business or the commercial structure. And usually we get a lot of reaction from that because we’re actually hanging on every door the notice that the water is going to be turned off. That basically gets a lot of people’s attention.
Even with that process what ends up happening is I want to say two that we have shut off. So, I want to say there’s a Lakeside Apartments we have definitely shutoff, and I believe there’s one other that we had to shut off. But I have to tell you this, and this is what’s SO disappointing about the whole process is we have to go through this every month. The businesses still are requiring us to go through this. They don’t believe us that we’re going to shut them off. And until we go through this process over the next six, eight, twelve months and continue to do it the businesses, they will not come in on their own until pressed to pay their bill. So, that’s the disheartening piece.
The best piece about this is so, when we do do this they do pay and we do see our money. And if we go into a shut—off mode in order to turn it back on they have to pay a fee to turn back on and we’re asking for 50 percent of their delinquent balance due. So, they definitely don’t want to go into that shut—off mode because now we’re asking for a lot more money.
Now, on the residential side we follow the same process. We try to reach out and try to get to the point where they know we’re coming. However, with residents it’s much harder, so what we do is we look at where we’re going, what we’re doing without getting into a lot of detail here. We post the residence. We give them time to come in and try to square up their accounts. And we have gone through the shut-off notice. We have gone through the shut—off s. That happened in March. As the weather got warmer we started to shut off.
What we discovered is a third of the homes that were shutting off are vacant, and that’s rough. So, we have to tackle this vacant parcel issue in a much bigger and much global scale. So, now we have to go and we have to search.
What we’ll do is if we don’t get paid, whether it’s a commercial customer or it’s a residential customer, we will place water, that balance that is eligible underneath the law, we will put that on the tax bill. We usually do that in May based upon whatever the ordinance requires us to do. And I can tell you, and I’ll forewarn you, the County Treasurer has given us a hard time about this. We basically said that we’re going to deliver a delinquent water to the tax roll July of ‘17, and we’re expecting that if it isn’t paid by the customer or by the property owner in the ‘17 tax year that we’re going to see that paid to us in the delinquent roll in March of ‘18, and we’re expecting the County Treasurer to collect on that delinquent roll.
So, all that is happening right now. We’ve had numerous discussions with the County Treasurer. I think she’s coming around and seeing our position, but I think it’s going to take a meeting or two more to scoop out the process. But that’s how we’re tackling the delinquent water issue now.
Our goal is to get to a 80 percent collection rate on a monthly basis. We are getting there. And I want to say overall net we had an estimated for ‘16—17, I’m sorry, for calendar year ‘16 we had approximately almost a 50 percent collection rate. And you got to remember with that we went through the time when no one was paying a water bill. Okay? So, as the months have improved and we’ve got the threat of shut—off out there we’re seeing collection rates on a monthly basis now of 68, 70, 112, 115 percent both on the residential and commercial side depending on what you’re looking at here. And that’s because of the threat of the shut—off, and we need to continue to do that.
CHAIRPERSON HEADEN: You mentioned just ‘17 collections that are not being paid with the threat of delinquent March 1 of ‘18, I think under the General Property Tax Act. Was that done — just out of curiosity, in fiscal ‘16 or calendar year ‘16 was anything returned delinquent March 1 of ‘17?
MR. SABUDA: A good question. No. What ended up happening is this. My understanding is that the City went to put those tax, those delinquent charges on the taxes. The Treasurer, the County Treasurer wrote a letter saying we’re not going to collect on that, don’t even think about putting that on there. The City, to make a long story short, brought those balances back to —— and we held them on account. Then what wound up happening is we went through the credit process, and the credit process came in and, the way I look at it, that was taken care of through the credit process.