Council Appoints McManus Interim Health Leader
She'll be interim commissioner. Says city's failure to send letters about lead was "deliberate."
The Milwaukee Common Council has found a new interim commissioner for the troubled Health Department. Tuesday afternoon the council confirmed president Ashanti Hamilton‘s appointment of Patricia McManus.
McManus serves as the President and CEO of the Black Health Coalition. She has worked with the organization since 1988 and will take a leave of absence while she’s head of the Health Department.
McManus has a PhD in Urban Studies with an emphasis on health and human services from UW-Milwaukee. She has a bachelors and masters degree in nursing from UW-Milwaukee. “I think without question that McManus has the experience and expertise to serve in the position,” said Alderman Khalif Rainey.
The move to hire McManus comes as an abrupt change from the pending appointment of former commissioner Paul Nannis to the interim role. Mayor Tom Barrett didn’t give the council the chance to reject Paul Nannis, withdrawing his appointment Monday afternoon before it was scheduled to be voted on Tuesday.
Barrett announced the interim appointment of Nannis on January 12th at the same press conference that he announced the resignation of commissioner Bevan K. Baker and serious shortcomings with the city’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program.
Hamilton says he discussed the nomination with Barrett, and didn’t explore finding his own candidate until the Public Safety and Health Committee rejected Nannis on a 3-to-1 vote. The council is able to appoint the commissioner under state statue s. 62.11(5), which grants them the power to act in the general interest of the public health, safety, and welfare because there is no commissioner.
“I thought it was imperative upon us to move at the speed of justice,” said Hamilton.
Ald. Michael Murphy moved to send the measure to a committee to ensure a proper, public process. His measure failed, only finding support from council members Nik Kovac, Mark Borkowski and Terry Witkowski.
The council resolved into a committee of the whole to allow McManus to speak and answer questions.
McManus was grilled by Barrett-ally Witkowski. He asked a series of questions about her personality and management experience leading large organizations, given that the Health Dept. has an annual budget of approximately $21 million.
“I understand you have been asked not to sit on committees because of your manner of dealing with other people,” asked Witkowski. McManus responded that she was unaware of any such situations where that has taken place.
McManus told Witkowski that while the Black Health Coalition annual budget is only around $300,000 today, she is proud of the work the group has done on infant mortality given their limited resources. The coalition previously had a federal grant to work on approximately 500 cases a year.
She noted that during her time at Milwaukee County — she was a special project coordinator for the county Department of Health and Social Services — she managed a $10 million budget and approximately 225 people, 150 of which were nurses.
The questions from Witkowski didn’t sit well with Ald. Russell W. Stamper, II who interrupted Witkowski in an attempt to get him to stop.
Hamilton slammed his gavel, stating “this is what I’m telling you, she is handling these questions like a champ, so let him ask because he’s proving our point.”
Witkowski dropped his line of questioning while asking Stamper for respect.
Referencing the difficulty Barrett might face in getting a permanent commissioner confirmed, Murphy asked: “are you prepared to be able to stay in this position for the remainder of the mayor’s term?” McManus responded: “I can’t say yes that I definitely would do it, but I would consider it.” Murphy, who said he has known McManus for 30 years, said he respected her honesty.
McManus said she would not take an oath of loyalty to the mayor, but did look forward to meeting with him and members of the department to help guide her decisions on how to operate the department. She stressed she also wouldn’t take an oath of loyalty to the council.
Answering a question from Kovac about her views of the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program before its troubles began in 2015, McManus said “I am hesitant to claim success on a piece when the whole part is so bad. That report, to be honest, was scathing.” The city reports that since 2003, the number of children testing positive for lead poisoning at the five micrograms per deciliter level has declined by 70 percent. McManus said that zero kids testing positive should be the goal.
She drew praise from Bauman for being a long-time supporter of the need for regional mass transit as part of a broad, systems-based plan to address public health.
Bauman questioned her stance on the city’s lead lateral replacement program. McManus said she thinks the city’s program that replaces the homeowner’s portion of the lead service line in the event of a break should be extended to all homeowners at their request, even if the line hasn’t broken. The program caps the cost to property owners at $1,600 and allows payments to be made over a course of 10 years without interest. The city absorbs the rest of the cost, which costs thousands of dollars.
After nearly two hours of debate, the council approved McManus on a 13-1-1 vote. Witkowski objected and Murphy abstained.
The McManus appointment comes at a critical time. The council learned last week that the city is unable to hire, fire or discipline employees in the Health Dept. without a commissioner. McManus will also serve in the role of Public Health Officer, which grants her the power to order quarantines in the event of a public health crisis. The city does not have a deputy who assumes that role, a shortcoming that was revealed in the wake of Baker’s resignation.
Deliberate Failures at Health Department?
McManus was highly critical of the Health Department in a press conference following her confirmation. She said that while she believes it is possible that issues might arise with letters not going out for one year, the fact that it happened for a period of three years means that it was a “deliberate” decision. That’s a damning accusation, and McManus seemed to realize this, adding, “I’m probably going to get in trouble for saying this.”
She said that substantially more would need to be added to the department’s 50-page report for her to recommend implementing any the report’s 12 pages of recommendation.
McManus and Fake News
McManus’ salary with the Black Health Coalition became an issue when she accused the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel of publishing “fake news.” She told the council she has earned a salary between $90,000 and $140,000 in her role with the organization, but federal 990 reports for the organization from 2014, 2015 and 2016 list her salary at $170,000, $158,1000 and $83,300. She earned a minimum of $6,900 in annual benefits during that period.
Auditing the Department
Earlier in the meeting, the council approved issuing a request for proposals to audit the operations of the entire Health Dept.
The council will use the responses to guide their decision on whether to pay an outside contractor, likely via the city’s contingency fund, to conduct the audit or to refer the matter to the independently-elected City Comptroller for an internal investigation.
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More about the Lead Crisis
- A statement from Alderman Terry L. Witkowski following the March 22 special Public Safety and Health Committee meeting - Ald. Terry Witkowski - Mar 22nd, 2019
- City Hall: FLAC, Get the Lead Out Fight City Over Lead Posioning - Jeramey Jannene - Mar 22nd, 2019
- Special meeting devoted to lead in water issues will feature city departments - Ald. Bob Donovan - Mar 20th, 2019
- City Hall: Council Approves Civilian Health Oversight Board - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 5th, 2019
- Marquette University to host Flint water crisis author Anna Clark - Marquette University - Jan 18th, 2019
- Lead-Free Homes a Priority for Kowalik - Corri Hess - Jan 17th, 2019
- Council approves legislation concerning the Milwaukee Health Department’s lead reporting processes and water filter distribution plans - Ald. Milele Coggs - Jan 15th, 2019
- Forum Examines Lead Poisoning Prevention - Abby Ng - Nov 30th, 2018
- City Hall: City’s Lead Program is Working Again - Jeramey Jannene - Nov 16th, 2018
- League of Women Voters – Nov. 17 Public Program Addressing Lead Issues: A Milwaukee Focus - League of Women Voters of Milwaukee County - Nov 5th, 2018
- Citizens deserve to hear from Bevan Baker in public proceeding - Ald. Tony Zielinski - Oct 22nd, 2018
- Milwaukee’s Young Children Need to Be the Focus - Ald. Mark Borkowski - Sep 24th, 2018
- City Hall: Baker To Testify Before Common Council - Jeramey Jannene - Sep 14th, 2018
- Warning Residents of Lead Dangers - Jenny Whidden - Jul 18th, 2018
- Governor Walker Administration Awards More Than $26 Million for Lead Service Line Replacement in 42 Wisconsin Communities - Gov. Scott Walker - Jul 18th, 2018
- Environmental Review of City of Milwaukee Project for the Safe Drinking Water Loan Program (SDWLP) - Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources - Jul 9th, 2018
- Environmental review of City of Milwaukee project for the Safe Drinking Water Loan Program (SDWLP) - Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources - Jun 26th, 2018
- Common Council approves full lead hazard review for city-owned properties - Ald. Jose Perez - May 8th, 2018
- Legislation mandates lead water lines replacement at child care facilities - Ald. Milele Coggs - Apr 26th, 2018
- Child Care Centers Still Have Lead Pipes - Edgar Mendez - Apr 23rd, 2018
- Legislation looks to local source for water infrastructure needs - Ald. Milele Coggs - Apr 4th, 2018
- ‘10thirtysix ’ to re-ring the alarm bell on milwaukee’s lead crisis - Milwaukee PBS - Mar 27th, 2018
- Chief of Staff Comment on FLAC - Patrick Curley - Mar 22nd, 2018
- Evers Demands Action on Wisconsin’s Drinking Water Crisis - Gov. Tony Evers - Mar 21st, 2018
- Op Ed: How City Should Solve Lead in Water - Noelle Chesley, Anne Dressel, John Berges, and Helen Meier - Mar 2nd, 2018
- Alderman Bohl: A better strategy is needed in dealing with lead laterals - Ald. Jim Bohl - Feb 26th, 2018
- City Hall: McManus Lays Out Three Priorities for Health Department - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 23rd, 2018
- Governor Walker Signs Leading on Lead Act into Law - Gov. Scott Walker - Feb 21st, 2018
- City Hall: Mayor Allows Interim Health Leader - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 15th, 2018
- City Hall: Will Mayor Confirm Health Commissioner? - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 14th, 2018
- City Hall: HUD Halts City Lead Treatment Program - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 12th, 2018
- From Dr. Patricia McManus: Comments clarified - Common Council President Ashanti Hamilton - Feb 9th, 2018
- Comments by newly appointed interim Health Department commissioner troubling - Ald. Michael Murphy - Feb 9th, 2018
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Council Appoints McManus Interim Health Leader - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 6th, 2018
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Barrett Withdraws Nannis Nomination - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 5th, 2018
- FLAC Calls on Common Council to Confirm Dr. Patricia McManus as Interim Health Commissioner - Freshwater For Life Action Coalition - Feb 3rd, 2018
- Silence is Complicity – If You See Something, Please Say Something - Ald. Milele Coggs - Feb 2nd, 2018
- Gag Order for Health Department Employees Lifted by Mayor - Ald. Bob Donovan - Feb 1st, 2018
- Resolution Aims to Take Down Milwaukee Health Department’s Restrictive Communication Policy - Ald. Tony Zielinski - Feb 1st, 2018
- Common Council Alerts At-Risk Populations of Lead Risks After City of Milwaukee Health Department Fails to Notify Public - Milwaukee Common Council - Jan 31st, 2018
- Key Details Missing from the Mayor’s Account of Lead Testing Crisis - Ald. Khalif Rainey - Jan 31st, 2018
- What We Really Need: Answers - Ald. Russell Stamper, II - Jan 31st, 2018
- The Administration has Lost the Common Council’s Confidence in Addressing the Lead Issue - Ald. Jose Perez - Jan 30th, 2018
- Eyes on Milwaukee: City Report Finds Health Dept. Problems - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 30th, 2018
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Council Could Reject Interim Health Leader - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 30th, 2018
- Aldermen Ask City Attorney for Legality of Paul Nannis’ position - Milwaukee Common Council - Jan 29th, 2018
- Eyes on Milwaukee: $750 Million to Replace Lead Pipes - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 24th, 2018
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Council Responds to Lead Crisis - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 23rd, 2018
- Legislation seeks lead service line replacement for city-owned properties - Ald. Bob Bauman - Jan 19th, 2018
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Council Grills Mayor, City Health Staff - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 17th, 2018
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Council Launches Health Dept. Probe - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 17th, 2018
- Resolution calls for Milwaukee Water to give public lead updates - Ald. Tony Zielinski - Jan 17th, 2018
- Commissioner Baker’s departure leaves us all with many, many questions - Ald. Bob Donovan - Jan 16th, 2018
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Barrett Ousts Bevan Baker Over Lead Fiasco - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 12th, 2018
- Health Department mistakes worsen city’s lead crisis - Ald. Mark Borkowski - Jan 12th, 2018
- Council set to act on Health Department crisis - Milwaukee Common Council - Jan 12th, 2018
- Freshwater For Life Action Coalition (FLAC) to Hold Press Conference After Announcement Of Firing Health Commissioner Bevan Baker - Freshwater For Life Action Coalition - Jan 12th, 2018
- Is City Dragging Feet on Lead Filters? - Jabril Faraj and Elliot Hughes - Jan 3rd, 2018
- Common Council Strengthens Lead Standards - Jabril Faraj - Dec 5th, 2017
- One Step Closer to Tackling Wisconsin’s Lead Crisis - State Sen. Chris Larson - Oct 31st, 2017
- Advocates Push City On Lead Pipes - Jabril Faraj - Oct 25th, 2017
- Lead Poisoning a “Public Health Crisis” - Jabril Faraj - Jul 19th, 2017
- National Water Expert Retracts Criticism of City Health Department - City of Milwaukee Health Department - Jul 14th, 2017
- Governor Walker Announces 35 Municipalities to Receive a Total of $13.8 Million to Remove Lead Service Lines - Gov. Scott Walker - Jun 28th, 2017
- Campaign Cash: WMC Opposes Lead Pipes Bill - Wisconsin Democracy Campaign - Apr 20th, 2017
- Op Ed: State Action Needed on Lead Pipes Problem - Chris Walker - Mar 12th, 2017
- Murphy’s Law: How Milwaukee Handled “Flint” Crisis - Bruce Murphy - Jan 19th, 2017
- Tainted Water: State’s Failures On Lead Pipes - Cara Lombardo and Dee J. Hall - Jan 15th, 2017
- Tainted Water: Lax Rules Expose Kids To Lead-Tainted Water - Cara Lombardo and Dee J. Hall - Dec 19th, 2016
- Tainted Water: DNR Program Replaces Lead Laterals - Cara Lombardo and Dee J. Hall - Dec 19th, 2016
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Council Approves Help For Lead Pipes - Jeramey Jannene - Dec 13th, 2016
- Tainted Water: DNR Delays on Lead Poisoning Issue - Cara Lombardo and Dee J. Hall - Dec 4th, 2016