Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Will Mayor Confirm Health Commissioner?

Newly-appointed Patricia McManus still needs confirmation.

By - Feb 14th, 2018 05:30 pm
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Patricia McManus answers questions from reports. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Patricia McManus answers questions from reports. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The Common Council took the rare step of rejecting a mayoral appointee and appointing their own interim health commissioner last Tuesday. The council appointed Patricia McManus to head the city’s troubled Health Department on a 13-1-1 vote. With such an overwhelming margin, it was expected by many within City Hall that Mayor Tom Barrett would sign off on the appointment and let McManus get to work. Some council members, in fact, told Urban Milwaukee the whole issue was a sign of the mayor’s declining power.

But things have become much less straightforward since then, after controversy erupted over comments by McManus that seemed to doubt the safety of vaccines, which raised some concerns about her appointment.

Barrett has until the close of business Thursday to confirm the appointment. Failure to do so will result the appointment McManus. Barrett could also explicitly veto the appointment.

When asked Monday about McManus’s claim that “the science is still out” on a link between vaccines and autism, Barrett was definitive. “I’m not a scientist, but everything I’ve read is that the science is settled. There is no link between the vaccinations for measles and mumps in particular and autism. This is not a question that is still unresolved. It is settled.”

Alderman Michael Murphy, who abstained from voting on the appointment because he said it was rushed, wasn’t pleased with McManus’s comments either. “This is not true and it is a very troubling view from someone who has just been entrusted with the public health of our city and the future lives of untold thousands of children,” said the alderman in a press release.

McManus attempted to walk back her remarks through a statement issued by council president Ashanti Hamilton. “I, as most public health professionals and doctors, believe that the best thing to do is to get immunized,” said McManus. She noted that all of her children and grandchildren have been vaccinated.

The tentative appointee also realized she might have created controversy in an interview after her council confirmation. Responding to a failure to send out hundreds of letters by the Health Dept., 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 that, adding, “I’m probably going to get in trouble for saying this.”

Early Tuesday afternoon, Barrett wasn’t revealing what he would do regarding her appointment. “We’ve started the conversation, we’re going to have more conversations, and I will act on the file by the end of this week.”

When asked about McManus’s declaration that she wouldn’t take a loyalty oath, the mayor said: “I’ve never asked anyone to take a loyalty oath. I do expect people to be accountable to both the executive branch and the legislative branch. These positions are not free agents and I think she understands that.”

Barrett did confirm that McManus was not part of a recent review of the Health Department held with representatives of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Issues related to the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program led to the January 11th resignation of Health Commissioner Bevan K. Baker. The council opened a formal investigation into the department on January 17th.

Correction: An earlier version of this story indicated Mayor Barrett could simply not confirm the appointment of McManus and that would result in the need for a veto override vote. This was incorrect, his not acting on the confirmation would result in McManus’ appointment.

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Categories: City Hall, Politics

6 thoughts on “City Hall: Will Mayor Confirm Health Commissioner?”

  1. Lucy Cooper says:

    I have a question. Was the HUD meeting you reference before or after Patricia McManus’s nomination/ appointment by a 13 member supermajority if the Common Council.

    If after, she should have been invited.

  2. Jeramey Jannene says:

    @Lucy Cooper – After. As was an issue with the Nannis appointment, she is not officially the commissioner until both the council and mayor confirm her (or the council overrides a mayoral veto).

  3. Ted Chisholm says:

    Where does the Council get its authority to appoint department heads? My understanding was that legislation took effect in 1988 that made commissioners serve at the pleasure of the mayor. Hence how Bill Drew was ousted from DCD when Norquist took over.

    Separately, how does the succession plan work for these offices? Even if there’s no deputy commissioner, you’d think there is some at-will employee (or acting equivalent) who could step in temporarily as commissioner under circumstances such as these, thus eliminating the chance of political back-and-forth.

  4. Jeramey Jannene says:

    @Ted – They’re invoking their authority to make the appointment under state statute 62.11(5).

    In the case of the Health Commissioner (and Public Health Officer), there is a position that has been held open for at least a few years now of deputy.

  5. Mark P. Behar, PA-C says:

    It is unconscionable that a candidate for commissioner of health would suggest that there is even a hint of legitimate scientific controversy regarding the the role vaccinations and autism. It’s not “toeing the party line” in public health. It’s akin to saying the “the world is flat,” or that “climate change is a hoax.” There are many very talented African American public health professionals in the country that are worthy considerations for this very important position. And it’s just not about lead, communicable diseases, maternal and infant/children’s health.

  6. lccfccoop2@icloud.com says:

    She could have been invited as an observer. Unless the Mayor intends to push the envelope and veto her nomination and try to get enough votes to avoid an over-ride, she is going to be the Health Commissioner. Wouldn’t it have been wise to have her in the room for an important meeting about the JUD funded program which has now been temporarily suspended?

    Or am I missing something?

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