Baker To Testify Before Common Council
110 pages of text messages show ex-Health Department head knew about lead problems.
Baker will appear before a special meeting of the council’s Steering and Rules Committee, said Hamiton. The meeting is likely to attract the full council and every media outlet in town.
The news comes just days after a bombshell series of text messages were released following an open records request by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The text messages between Baker and Director of Nursing Tiffany Barta reveal the two had concerns in late September 2017 that the public and other city officials could learn that a lead-poisoned child was sent home from the hospital to a home that was not abated. They also indicate that problems with the lead program were known inside the department for at least much of 2017.
When will the meeting occur? Hamilton didn’t say, and moved quickly into closed session after making the announcement. It’s already been eight months since Mayor Tom Barrett announced Baker’s resignation.
The council president said the committee was going into closed session Thursday to discuss potential liability concerns in the matter.
Along with the release of the text messages also came the results of the personnel investigations in the department. Lisa Lien, the Home Environmental Health Manager, chose to resign rather than be fired. Environmental Health Field Supervisor Richard Gareta was fired on August 31st, and is appealing his termination. Two additional employees, whose names were not released, were disciplined, but the report indicates they are in management.
An outside law firm involved in the management investigation found “an environment full of bullying and unprofessionalism which affected the effective functioning of the Health Department.”
Lead Problems Well Known Within Department
A September 27th text message from Barta to Baker raises serious issues with the lead program, and indicates the problems were well-known before this. The message notes problems with Lisa Lien’s performance, but also references Disease Control and Environmental Health Services Director Angela Hagy, Health Operations Administrator Sandra Rotar, Personnel Officer Tanz Robertson, Public Health Nurse Coordinator Margot Manassa, Emergency Prepared Coordinator Lindsey Page and Director of Public Health Planning and Policy Sarah Zarate. The message:
Good evening Commissioner. My apologies for this intrusion, but I need to provide to you an update. Angie came in my office pleading for my assistance with the lead program. I’ve also called Sandy this evening to further discuss. Bottom line… another chelates child was sent home to an uncleared home. WTH!
I am assisting with the lead program to save our departments face! My request is that Lisa must be held accountable, I’m not fixing it for her to muck it up again. Angie is asking for me to write the lead nursing policies, work and train the staff, and be available for guidance/questions. Her plan is to move the lead nurses downtown to be supervised by Lindsey, and for me to provide nursing guidance, training, and direction for them. It is my understanding that there are no polices in lead, except the ones that I used 5 years ago, but Lisa made changes that were never written, so I don’t know of any and create others. Due to this abrupt request and urgency (safety concerns for children). my policy list will need to reflect this change, because the new priority will need to be changed from department standards of practice to all lead standards of practice, and general logistics/operations policies.
I have a meeting set up with Sarah Zarate, and I will convey this change as the new priority (Sandy R.) has agreed. I’m meeting with Tanz tomorrow to discuss training for Margot (the black nurse that we wrote up), however this is a larger problem. Lisa was the previous incumbent for the director of nursing position, and you know what that looked like before I took it on. She is doing the same thing in the lead program. I’m pissed and I’m only doing this for you, because if this gets out, that the lead program is this messed up! We will be held to the grind stone! I work very hard; weekends, nights ( you can relate), no compensation,etc. I could say no, but I don’t want you to have to answer to the crap they will serve you across the street. I’m sure that Sandy will update you soon. If you have any questions, please let me know! I will address it
Again, my apologies for this intrusion.
Baker responded: “Tiffany, Thanks for letting me know. I am here to help. It’s clear that you need my involvement. Let’s talk about this tomorrow. I appreciate your efforts to date. Pace yourself. Together we will clean up and clear out this mess.”
Lien was suspended in December for 10 days by Baker, and suspended again following Baker’s resignation. She ultimately resigned and said in a lengthy statement that she was made out to be a “scapegoat.”
Another message from Barta singles out Paul Biedrycki, who Hagy replaced in June 2017 following his retirement, as at “fault” for issues with department.
In the month’s worth of messages, Barta offers Baker guidance on presenting the department in a positive light, praises the commissioner and notes as early as June 2017 she was preparing a plan to turn around the program.
The 110 pages of text messages provide insight into personnel issues between members of the department. In numerous message threads, Barta expresses frustrations with Rotar and Rotar’s concern over Baker’s “whereabouts” and actions. Multiple sources close to the Health Department have said that Baker was frequently away from the office.
In the wake of Baker’s resignation, Rotar and Hagy were two members of the Health Department that routinely appeared before the Common Council to help explain issues with the department and lead program. Rotar has since left the city.
Mayor Barrett’s office issued a statement when the messages were released Tueday: “Today’s release of texts confirms what the mayor has been saying for months. Once he learned of the issues of the Health Department, he acted immediately, made the information public, and began the work to address the problems.”
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More about the Lead Crisis
- 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