By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Kyle Swenson
He fired whistleblowers and kept administrator Flaherty and lab director Gerry Weber, who together ran the water department into the ground and misinformed regulators. Only in October, as community pressure grew, did Hargett, in an obvious attempt to save his own job, finally promise to fire Flaherty and Weber, who will be terminated at the beginning of 2004.
But the commission meeting last Wednesday proved that Hargett is still hiding the extent of the problems. After the capable mayoral candidate Janice Griffin criticized the elected officials for not firing the city manager, Commissioner Lamar Fisher grilled Hargett about the lead levels. When asked if the water had been properly blended, Hargett admitted that plant workers had just begunto blend the water.
That may or may not be true, but Hargett did a wily dance of dissembling during the ensuing 15-minute question-and-answer session with the mostly clueless commissioners.
Hargett statement: "The EPA informed me this afternoon that no city official has been found guilty of falsifying records."
The truth: It's true that no officials have been convicted of any crimes, but the city manager falsely implied here that city employees had been exonerated. The flailing McGinn inferred as much and told Hargett to put the good news in writing, whereupon the manager conceded that there were three ongoing investigations, including one by the federal government, and that none was complete.
Hargett statement: "There have not been any water quality issues [other than the lead problem]."
The truth: Here the city manager conveniently forgot the chlorination outage in Palm-Aire that led to the health citation. This falsehood was prompted, ironically, by a question from Commissioner George Brummer, who represents the Palm-Aire neighborhood. Brummer, despite all the evidence and investigations, refuses to acknowledge there is any sort of problem.
Hargett statement: "All the homes tested were built between 1982 and 1986 [when lead solder was being used]."
The truth: This assertion might seem to narrow the number of homes susceptible to lead poisoning, but it's false. All homes built before 1986 are susceptible, and many of the homes the city tested were built before 1982, including the house owned by Canfield, which he says was built in the 1960s.
By the time Hargett was finished with his disinformation campaign, all five commissioners were surely more confused than ever. McGinn, the beleaguered mother of a dysfunctional city, seemed as befuddled as ever. The only crystal-clear certainty is that it's up to the federal and state agents to protect the city's water supply and punish the officials who have engineered a public health nightmare.