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WUWM's Susan Bence reports on Wisconsin environmental issues.

Milwaukee Common Council Selects Interim Health Commissioner

Milwaukee Public Radio
Dr. Patricia McManus

The Common Council voted nearly unanimously Tuesday to name Dr. Patricia McManus interim health commissioner.

Just one day earlier, Mayor Tom Barrett withdrew his choice for interim health department head, Paul Nannis.

The writing was on the wall. Recently the Public Safety and Health Committee grilled and rejected Nannis.

Common Council President Ashanti Hamilton decided to act – drawing from a seldom used measure called emergency power – to nominate Dr. Patricia MaManus for the job.

McManus heads the Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin. Its focus includes HIV/Aids and healthy prenatal and infants programs.

McManus wanted to make it clear, she said she is not job-hunting. “Okay, I have a job, I love my job. But I’ve also always been a servant and a public servant – things are needed and I feel I can do it. I’m offering to do that."

McManus said people in the community asked her to step forward.

Alderman Terry Witkowski peppered her with questions. “The health department’s budget is $21 million, how much do you currently supervise?” he asked.

“The one I supervise now is probably around $300,000. In my lifetime, I worked for County…. That budget was close to $10 million, so that’s probably the highest,” McManus said.

Witkowski asked about McManus’ ability to collaborate: “My understanding is that you’ve been asked not to sit on committees because of your manner of dealing with other people."

“I’ve never been asked not to sit on a committee. And I’ve never been told that I have a particular of treating people, so you’d have to explain to me sir what that is,” McManus responded.

Alderman Russell Stamper rose to McManus’ defense" “The questioning has to be based on qualifications, skills, how she’s going to help the health department. He’s asking ‘he said, she said’ type questions."

Common Council President Ashanti Hamilton quickly put the aldermanic squabbling to rest. “I’m going to ask everybody to respect this chair. But this is what aim going to tell you – she’s handling these questions like a champ. So let him ask," he said.

McManus didn’t appear the least bit flustered. When asked about her record fighting infant mortality, she said, “I had an independent evaluator that whole time, and that independent evaluator said the way that we provided our services, produced outcomes for the 1,000 people or 500 families that we served."

McManus was also asked how she would lead a beleaguered health department. “I’ve hired staff, I’ve fired staff, so I’ll be able to tell if that needs to happen," she said. "But for right now, the certain thing I can tell you is that I’m going to get behind this whole lead piece. I want to be able to do that and make some recommendations, depending on whatever my time is."

Although the chamber seemed to be tipping in in McManus’ favor, several people, including Alderman Michael Murphy, urged the common council to slow down. “It’s unfortunate we’re in a position, where we’re looking at making an extraordinary maneuver of using our emergency powers. I do believe a public hearing is necessary,” he said.

President Ashanti Hamilton said normal protocol needed to be set aside to rebuild both public trust and the city’s ailing health department. “And if it turns out to be a bad decision, let it be mine,” he said.

Hamilton said by voting for Patricia McManus, the council was moving at the speed of justice.

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Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.
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