The Work in the New Year

world-of-christmasChristmas may be over but  the work of Christmas is just beginning; to help those who are most vulnerable.   One example  of need in our communities  is Flint, Michigan’s water problems. No public official in  Michigan was deliberately trying to poison children in Flint. There is no public enemy number 1;  rather we see a series of bad choices   and then a cover-up. “Administrative Evil”  is normal administrative professionals engaging  in evil acts without being aware that they are doing anything wrong (Adams, Balfor 2009). 

My poem “Flint (2014 ongoing) captures a real case of administrative evil in action.

Flint (2014 ongoing) by Julie Robinson


purveyor of health

taken for granted

streams out of taps

into our mouths

circles down drains to

contaminated rivers


cycles around

no filters in place

brackish, brown, stinky

budget reductions

a public disgrace


none of it safe

flows through the body

poisons children

irreversible harm


restricted to bottles

apologies abound

costs unpredictable


nature’s gift

public malfeasance


vital, virulent


Summary of the Flint, Michigan Water Issue

My husband, a physician, frequently says the United States health system is more dependent on our high quality public health programs than on our abundant supplies of physicians and hospitals. One example of this is  drinking water from the tap.  If you have travelled in other countries where the water is undependable such as Mexico or China, you know what a gift it is to be able to drink water directly from the faucet in the U.S.  Of course, that is not true everywhere is the U.S.  The place that has received the most publicity for public health problems over the past few years is Flint, Michigan.  In Flint, a decision was made to move the drinking water to the Flint River in 2014.  This decision was made to allow time to build a pipeline to connect to the Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA). 

children in flint.jpg
Some children in Flint are still restricted to drinking bottled water.  High lead levels in the water may have impacted as many as 12,000 children.


Mayor Walling explained the decision as follows: ‘It’s regular, good, pure drinking water, and it’s right in our backyard… this is the first step in the right direction for Flint, and we take this monumental step forward in controlling the future of our community’s most precious resource.’ “

Rather than testing the water first to make sure the public was safe. The City chose to take a less expensive route of “waiting to see” what happens.

High lead levels started being documented in February 25, 2015. This information was deep-sixed by public authorities. By December 2015 as lead levels continued to climb, Flint Mayor Karen Weaver declared a state of emergency over the elevated lead levels in the city’s water. “I am requesting that all things be done necessary to address this state of emergency declaration, effective immediately,”

The water continued to be unsafe in Spring 2016. Both Presidential candidates Trump and Clinton and President Obama visited to symbolize their concern.  Concern is not corrective action!  By July nine public officials in Michigan had been charged with criminal offenses for the problems with Flint, Water.  These public officials were charged with misconduct and misuse of public funds.

By December 2016, four officials — two of Flint’s former emergency managers, who reported directly to the governor, and two water plant officials — were charged with felonies of false pretenses and conspiracy. They are accused of misleading the Michigan Department of Treasury into getting millions in bonds, and then misused the money to finance the construction of a new pipeline and force Flint’s drinking water source to be switched to the Flint River.

Today, filtered Flint water is safe to drink but not everyone, especially low income families, have access to working filters. The courts have ordered that these individuals be provided with bottled water.

A $170 million stopgap spending bill for repairing and upgrading the city of Flint’s water system and helping with healthcare costs was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives on December 8, 2016.[8] The Senate approved it the next day.[9] $100 million of the bill is for infrastructure repairs, $50 million for healthcare costs, and $20 million to pay back loans related to the crisis.


Flint Protesters



Spotlight–Go See it!

Spotlight has been consistently ranked one of the top movies of 2015.  Rated R, this true story focuses on the work of the Boston Globe reporting team, called Spotlight.  In January 2002, the team broke the story of the Catholic priests molesting children and the Catholic Church systematically covering up this molestation.   The scope of the scandal, worldwide and to the highest levels of the church, led Pope Francis to apologize to victims when visiting America in fall 2015.

Since most viewers know the outcome, what makes this movie so engaging? The movie focuses not on the priests, the church, or the victims though all are back stories.  The spotlight of the movie is the gritty, hard working Boston Globe reporting team. The movie title Spotlight is actually a double entendre, gleaned from the name of the reporting team, the movie in turn focuses the spotlight on the work of afore-named team, on the cover-up within the Catholic Church and ultimately on the treacherous tentacles that draw seemingly normal, good people into administrative evil.

In the movie, the team is composed of top actors (Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffal, Rachel McAdam and Brian d’Arcy).  The Globe’s team in 2001/2002 was composed of some of the top news paper reporters in the country.  The Spotlight team’s performance and work ethic meets the standards of a Harvard Business Review article. Everyone understands the goal and their role in getting the story done.  Each member of the team gives their all to create a cohesive, documented story under a tight deadline.  The entire team is emotionally impacted by the tawdriness of Catholic Church’s failure to protect children and the egregious long-term impact of molestation on victims.

Cast of Spotlight
Cast of Spotlight: Michael Kenton, Live Schreiber, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdam, John Slattery and Brian d”Arcy


But the real hook isn’t the high quality acting. The compelling question for the viewer is how did this go on for so long?   As the movie unfolds, a culture of complicity unfolds before us.  The Catholic Church is one of the most powerful entities in Boston. More than 50 percent of the Globe’s readership were Catholic. The reporting team along with many Bostonians grew up in the Catholic faith and went to Catholic schools.  This embedded culture led to children being seduced by priests, parents being shamed by church officials for complaining, and lawyers legally negotiating sealed settlements.  Even when the Globe was first given the story in 1992; the blinders of culture kept a member of the Spotlight team from grasping the pattern and scope of the problem.

The viewer is told at one point that only an “outsider “could really see the problem.  The outsider in this case was the new Globe Editor in Chief, Marty Baron, from the Miami Herald (Liev Schreiber).  Jewish and from out of state, Baron found a column about a priest molesting a number of children noteworthy while his Boston staff did not.

In final analysis, Spotlight isn’t only a story about molestation in the Catholic Church.  Rather, it is a stirring analysis of administrative evil.  Guy Adams in his book, Unmasking Administrative Evil (2014), describes administrative evil as ordinary people engaging in acts of evil unaware they are doing anything wrong.  Some of these individuals even view their evil activity as good. In Spotlight, we see several people who argue their cover-up is for the good of the church.  These individuals equate what is good for the church as equaling what is good for Boston and the Globe.

The movie ends with a haunting, long list of all the locations around the world where cover-up of priest molestation has been documented. The lingering question for each audience member is, “Where might I be tacitly contributing to administrative  evil just by looking the other way?” Is it global warming, failure to speak up for refugees or laughing when politicians endorse building elaborate walls. Possibly even more subtle, equally complicit, do I silently watch unkindness, lack of compassion or ethical violations by my boss, coworkers,  my neighbors or my church?  What tentacles of administrative evil  are creeping into my life? Where do I need to go under a spotlight?