Flint Mayor Accused of Deflecting Water-Crisis Donations to Her Campaign Fund
A former city employee sued Flint, Mich., and its mayor after being fired, alleging the city's head directed watercrisis donations to a campaign fund.
The lawsuit, filed last week, claimed Maxine Murray, an assistant to Mayor Karen Weaver, came to city administrator Natasha Henderson "in tears" and confided that "she feared going to jail." Weaver allegedly told Murray and a volunteer to no longer direct potential donors to Safe Water/Safe Homes, a city-approved charity that the Community Foundation of Greater Flint ran, but, instead, send them to the website for "Karenabout Flint," which the lawsuit claimed is a political action committee or campaign fund for Weaver.
CNN was unable to locate the fund in state tax registries, but it does share its name with Weaver's 2015 campaign slogan and Twitter handle.
"It saddens me that someone would attempt to taint me as mayor of a city that is dealing with a major, public health crisis, which has affected every man, woman and child in Flint," Weaver told CNN. "I will continue to work hard to serve the people of Flint, seek support for our residents and secure the necessary resources from generous donors from around our great nation to help the city and citizens I have been elected to serve."
Henderson claimed her firing was a violation of her First Amendment rights and the Michigan Whistleblowers' Protection Act. She also is suing for wrongful termination and breach of contract, noting the widely publicized dismissal has damaged her reputation and prevented her from gaining future employment. She is requesting a to-be-determined monetary award, consisting of unpaid wages, damages and attorneys' fees.
"In a community where the current water crisis repeatedly exposed how people failed to do the right thing, Ms. Henderson did the right thing—and was fired for it," Henderson’s attorney, Katherine Smith Kennedy, said in a statement to Time.
Henderson beat out more than 25 candidates for the $140,000 salary job—the highest non-elected post in Flint—and a five-year contract, according to the Detroit Free Press.
She began her role in February 2015 overseeing various departments, such as finance, human resources, planning and development, and public works. Henderson also helped Flint recover from the water crisis, which included opposing Gov. Rick Snyder to secure $6 million from the state in order to switch Flint's water source back to Detroit's water department in October 2015, according to the lawsuit.
On Feb. 9, the same day she received the report of alleged wrongdoing regarding the mayor, Henderson said she relayed the information to the city's chief legal counsel Anthony Chubb. She followed up the next day via email, saying "Please promptly initiate an investigation of this matter in your capacity. In the meantime, please advise appropriate actions I can take to protect employees from potential retaliation resulting from them reporting allegations such as this."
Chubb allegedly promised to "take prompt action." Shortly after emailing him Feb. 12 for the third time, Weaver allegedly called Henderson into her office and fired her, effective immediately, saying the state could no longer afford her salary, according to the lawsuit, which noted Chubb and the human resources director also were present for the meeting.
Even after Henderson pointed out that the city paid her salary, Weaver allegedly asked Henderson to hand over her keys and other Flint property, and remove her personal items from her office by the end of the day, according to the lawsuit.
Weaver announced the move as part of a larger group of personnel changes later that month, according to CNN.
"It was not until this report that there was any discussion of her being fired," Kennedy told the Detroit Free Press.
Her lawyers attempted to resolve the issue with the city, but the city council, which initially supported Henderson, approved her dismissal March 14 in a closed session, which she alleged violated the state's open meeting laws.
"Upon information and belief, Mayor Weaver disparaged and defamed plaintiff Henderson during this closed meeting, alleging misconduct and other wrongdoing that never occurred and was patently false," according to the lawsuit. "Following this, the Flint City Council voted 9-0 to endorse Mayor Weaver's prior termination of plaintiff Henderson's employment, and the resolution that had failed on Feb. 22 passed. Upon information and belief, the city council was not made aware that plaintiff had alleged whistleblower claims, nor that the city had agreed with plaintiff's attorney to mediate such claims."