Mayor Tom Barrett gave Dr. Patricia McManus, head of the Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin, the official green light Thursday, but the process was far from seamless.
Six weeks ago former commissioner Bevan Baker stepped down after evidence surfaced that the health department had botched protocols surrounding lead testing in children.
Mayor Barrett then announced his choice for interim commissioner - Paul Nannis.
Some aldermen fought Barrett’s choice, and last week, the vast majority of the common council approved a file, naming Dr. McManus as interim health commissioner.
The file then headed to Mayor Barrett for his signature.
Yesterday, he returned the file to the council – unsigned – to display his displeasure with the common council and said: "I am very disturbed by unprecedented action of the common council. Very political by nature and I’m not going to play politics."
The mayor said aldermen rushed McManus' nomination, eliminating the chance for the public to have a voice.
Yet he said while unhappy with the process, he's throwing his full support behind McManus."I have had two constructive meetings with interim director McManus and have shared in a very candid and open fashion both my concerns and my priorities. I have committed to her the administration's full support in moving the health of the department forward." Barrett added, "I have also put in place a support team to assist the interim commissioner."
Barrett said McManus will have her hands full, with lead at the top of the list – and the hazards of lead-based paint as the primary focus. "For all of the hoopla going on the major focus should remain removing lead from older homes. That has been the issue basically for 20 years in this community and we should continue to make that a priority. That in no way minimizes any concerns that individuals have about lead in other places."
Some citizens and aldermen have expressed growing concerns about how the city has handled the threat of lead in water of older homes connected to city mains by lead lateral pipes.
It won't be long before the lead issue becomes the responsibility of a permanent health commissioner. Mayor Barrett said an appointment might come as soon as early April.
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