Barrett Withdraws Nannis Nomination
Interim Health Dept leader at issue, as City Hall infighting hits new highs.
Mayor Tom Barrett is withdrawing the nomination of Paul Nannis to serve as the Commissioner of the city’s Health Department and Public Health Officer. The appointment, announced in mid-January following the surprise resignation of Bevan K. Baker, was intended only for a period of 120 days. Baker’s resignation came after Barrett’s office discovered a mismanaged federal grant and a number of cases of improper notification of families of lead-poisoned children.
The absence of a commissioner and public health officer leaves the Health Dept. without the ability to hire, fire or discipline employees and respond to a number of potential public health crises. These shortcomings came to light at two recent hearings of the Common Council’s Steering & Rules Committee. A deputy position has been held empty for a number of years.
The Public Safety and Health Committee rejected the appointment on a 3-1 vote two weeks ago, with aldermen Robert Donovan, Mark Borkowski and Jose G. Perez voting in opposition. Ald. Terry Witkowski voted for Nannis, while Ald. Chantia Lewis abstained.
Last week Lewis joined dissenters Donovan, Borkowski, Perez and council members Ashanti Hamilton, Russell W. Stamper, II, Khalif Rainey and Milele A. Coggs in questioning the appointment of Nannis and the access he was given before being confirmed for the job. The eight signers of the letter represent a majority of the council.
Nannis served as the city’s Health Department commissioner until 1998 under Mayor John Norquist. During his ten-year tenure, he led the creation of the successful Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program that has recently been at the center of the scandal surrounding the Health Department. He went to work for Aurora Health Care and later serve as a health care consultant, receiving approximately $500,000 in city contracts.
A Proxy Fight Between Council and Barrett
At this point the fight over the appointment likely has less to do with Nannis and qualifications and much more to do with the person appointing him. The Common Council opened a formal investigation into the Health Dept. following the mayor’s January 12th announcement of serious issues within the department. Since then the rhetoric has been increasingly polarized, with multiple members of the council issuing press releases critical of Barrett’s oversight of the department last week.
Barrett’s letter withdrawing Nannis says that he intends to nominate another interim candidate before bringing forth a permanent replacement in early April. The letter doesn’t identify who that individual is, but does ask for respect from the council. “I am not, however, going to place a qualified and suitable candidate before you to be considered for the interim position when it’s unclear whether she or he would be provided with the professional courtesies that should be afforded to an individual willing to serve.”
Barrett’s letter says the interim appointee will not be considered for the permanent post.
The city has already initiated a search for a permanent commissioner. Applications are due February 23rd, 2018.
Potential Interim Candidates
At a meeting of the Council’s Steering & Rules Committee last week Dr. Geoffrey R. Swain told the council that he has been approached to lead the department in 2018. It is unclear if that came before or after Barrett announced Nannis as the nominee on January 12th.
Swain served the department as a consultant through a long-standing contract with the University of Wisconsin until his recent retirement. He is back temporarily with the department in the wake of Baker’s resignation.
Meanwhile, Council President Hamilton has introduced a resolution to appoint Patricia McManus as interim health commissioner. McManus is the longtime president and chief executive officer of the Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin.
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