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WUWM's Susan Bence reports on Wisconsin environmental issues.

Milwaukee Advocacy Group Says Mayor's Lead in Water Efforts Fall Woefully Short

Susan Bence
Milwaukee Public Radio
FLAC spokesperson Robert Miranda held press conference Thursday.

The group Freshwater For Life Action Coalition formed out of concern about Milwaukee’s lead in water problem. FLAC spokesperson Robert Miranda requested records from January 2015 through 2017 of meetings Mayor Barrett held with the Milwaukee Health Department. He wanted to determine how frequently the mayor was updated on the health department’s progress in informing the public.

Miranda says accountability in management meetings are routine among city departments that report to the mayor. In the case of the health department, “We saw from January 2015 to December 2015 that they were establishing this pattern of meeting every two to three months.” He adds in 2016, the meeting frequency dropped. “After a meeting in June they didn’t meet until 8 months later.”

During that time a task force was formed made up of city leaders and community advocates, on the heels of Mayor Barrett's unexpected announcement advising families especially with young children and pregnant women install lead-safe water filters.

Miranda questions why the mayor would not meet regularly with the health department to keep up with  pressing public health issue. “I’m inclined to believe that the mayor hasn’t provided us with all of the documents that we should have in order to determine how much he really knew about what was going on at the health department," he says.

Early this year news erupted that the health department had mismanaged its childhood lead program and failed to send thousands of families notification when their kids tested high for lead. The health commissioner abruptly resigned.

Miranda says he plans to send Mayor Barrett a letter and is asking for a response in writing.  FLAC's goal is to propel the mayor to amp up public education education and establish a strategic funding and lead lateral removal plan.

Mayor Barrett has maintained he’s taking the situation seriously and is getting to the bottom of mismanagement within the health department.

His Chief of Staff Patrick Curley released a statement Thursday saying, in part: “FLAC and its spokesman appear to be more interested in getting themselves media attention than addressing lead paint, the primary cause of lead poisoning."

Curley went on to suggest FLAC put its energy into lobbying for state and federal funding for lead lateral replacement that could add up to a $750 million project.

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Susan Bence entered broadcasting in an untraditional way. After years of avid public radio listening, Susan returned to school and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She interned for WUWM News and worked with the Lake Effect team, before being hired full-time as a WUWM News reporter / producer.
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