Gen. Michael McDaniel honored as a Champion of Justice for work in Flint

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WMU-Cooley Law School Associate Dean Brig. Gen. (ret.) Michael C. H. McDaniel, center, receives his Champion of Justice Award at the State Bar of Michigan annual banquet from (left) incoming State Bar President Donald G. Rockwell; and outgoing President Lawrence P. Nolan.

PHOTO COURTESY OF WMU-COOLEY LAW SCHOOL

by Cynthia Price
Legal News

Though retired Brigadier General Michael C.H. McDaniel plays a lot of critical roles at Western Michigan University-Thomas M. Cooley Law School, it was actually not for his work there that he received a Champion of Justice Award from the State Bar of Michigan.

It was, however, due to the law school’s generosity that he was able to  oversee a project that will make an appreciable difference in the lives of people in Flint.

For nearly two years, Gen. McDaniel, who is the Associate Dean of the Lansing Campus, Director of Homeland Security Law Programs, and a Professor at WMU-Cooley, has been overseeing a project to get good water to the people of Flint after the – a project which ultimately meant replacing the service lines in thousands of homes.

“The law school was gracious enough to let me work on this, and I really appreciate that,” McDaniel says. “When they say we’re an academic, scholarship, and service organization, they really mean that.  This was a substantial amount of time, and it’s very gratifying that President LeDuc would allow me that time.”

At the Sept. 28 awards banquet where each recipient’s response is videotaped, after thanking his WMU-Cooley colleagues and his “long-suffering” family, McDaniel said, “I feel like justice as an ideal is often elusive... The term embraces respect for morally acceptable law and respect for people’s rights. When they’re in opposition, we must step up. So we saw in Flint, and I had the honor to step into the breach.”

What that entailed in McDaniel’s case was working with the office of the mayor in Flint, first with Mayor Karen Weaver and later with Chief of Staff Steve Branch and a wide range of department heads and workers, on ways to fix the infrastructure of Flint so that residents’ water supply was not contaminated.

He says, “I was asked in January 2016 to become involved, I believe because I had done a review [in 2013] of the Lansing Board of Water and Light’s response to the ice storm. I had spent five or so months on that, working for Mayor Virg Bernero, whom I’ve known well since he was a state senator. He asked me on behalf of the mayor of Flint.

“In Flint, they have the election of the mayor and that person starts two weeks later, so Karen Weaver had no grace period. In essence, I was sort of her liaison with the state government. Governor Snyder set up the Interagency Coordinating Council and I served on it, and talked with a lot of the agency people.”

At the same time, McDaniel was assessing the situation with the physical infrastructure.

In a career where he has amassed an impressive amount of knowledge, Michael McDaniel is well-known for his expertise in infrastructure. Right before joining WMU-Cooley full time in 2010, he served as the U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for Homeland Defense Strategy, Prevention and Mission Assurance, which included supervision of the Department of Defense Critical Infrastructure Protection Program as well as work in anti-terrorism. In 2007, he was named chair of the State, Local, Tribal, and Territorial Government Coordinating Council by the Office of Infrastructure Protection.

After receiving his B.A. at St. Bonaventure University in New York state and his J.D. from Case Western Reserve University School of Law, McDaniel also attended the MSS Army War College as well as the M.A.S.S. Naval Postgraduate School. He received the Zimbardo Award, given to the Center for Homeland Defense and Security graduate who best embodies high academic achievement, outstanding leadership, and innovation in homeland security thinking.

He served in the Michigan National Guard for more than 26 years, and was the state Judge Advocate from 2002-2007. His promotion to Brigadier General followed that.

From 2003 to 2009, McDaniel served as Homeland Security advisor to Gov. Jennifer Granholm, and simultaneously as Assistant Adjutant General for Homeland Security for the Michigan National Guard. While working in the Granholm Administration, he was elected to the executive committee of the National Governors Association’s Homeland Security Advisors Council.

All of that experience stood him in good stead as he worked in Flint. The first task before him was determining the extent of the problem with the water delivery system infrastructure. He and his small team, consisting of a planning officer and an enlisted clerical assistant on loan from the National Guard, were dismayed to discover that all the records kept about individual homes were on index cards.

Despite that setback – almost remedied by a couple of University of Michigan professors digitizing the information – McDaniel and others were able to put together some maps to guide them as to where first to put their efforts. Using criteria such as whether there were elderly or children in the homes and where testing had shown highest concentrations of lead, the group kept refining the map.

In the meantime, McDaniel says, “It became clear to me pretty early on that we needed to replace the service lines, the lines going off of the main distribution lines. For two reasons: first, because after investigation we determined that the corrosion was too bad to continue using a lot of them, and second, because there was no trust. The people didn’t trust the state and didn’t trust the city, and replacing the pipes could change that.”

Close followers of the Flint crisis will remember that there was some hesitancy on the part of the state to commit to such a huge project, but Noting that Mayor Weaver was on board as soon as he presented the idea to her, McDaniel comments, “It took a little bit longer with the state – but not that long frankly. They were willing to consider it almost immediately, and at the very first meeting I had with [newly appointed Department of Environmental Qualify Chief] Keith Creagh, they agreed to do a pilot.”

As McDaniel continued to characterize the extent of what was needed so that costs could be estimated, Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters and Representative Dan Kildee were making the case in Congress that it was in the national interest to grant money to the project. The state came up with funds as well.

McDaniel stresses that he pledged not to participate in any of the lawsuits nor in politics. However, he says, “ I think one of the really important turning points is when the state and the city reached the settlement in the Concerned Pastor’s case. That became the mechanism, the vehicle by which we could say we had to get to work.”

That called for excavation at 6000 homes, though replacing the service lines at all of them was not mandated. Some percentage of the time, workers would find that there were no problems with the service lines and would “close up the hole,” but when all is said and done, McDaniel believes that there will be 6000 replacements completed in 2017. McDaniel intends to wrap up his work by year’s end.

He acknowledges that his role in this has been different from his most recent work. “I’ve thought about that many times,” he says. “For the last several years, I’d been doing everything at the strategic level, sort of the 30,000 foot level. But this was more operational, in military terms. I hadn’t done that for years, and it was kind of refreshing to do it again.”

McDaniel has plenty to keep himself busy as Dean of the Lansing Campus at WMU-Cooley, in addition to teaching classes and overseeing the Homeland Security Law Programs and the related LL.M. program he developed. He is co-writing a manual for mentors to go along with a guide for judges he wrote for the Ingham County Veterans Court.

“I was very honored to get the Champion of Justice Award,” he says, adding “That’s huge.”

But he has no intention of resting on his laurels. “I’m sure I’ll do something else next,” he says. “There will be another project.”