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Aldermen attack Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett over handling of lead investigation

Ald. Stamper II wants outside investigation
Aldermen attack Barrett over lead investigation
Posted at 3:09 PM, Jan 31, 2018

MILWAUKEE -- Several Milwaukee aldermen have released strongly-worded statements attacking Mayor Tom Barrett, arguing he has failed in properly investigating the city's lead abatement systems and in notifying families whose children tested positive for elevated lead levels.

Aldermen Jose Perez, Russell Stamper II, and Khalif Rainey all released statements Tuesday and Wednesday criticizing the mayor and calling for an outside investigation, possibly in the form of a federal agency, into the lead issue.

"Mayor Tom Barrett and his administration can no longer be trusted to lead the investigation into the broken lead abatement programs," Perez said. "The administration has been asleep at the switch."

Stamper II agreed, calling for an independent investigation into the matter.

"The ball has been dropped and the public has the right to have it picked up by an outside investigator," he said. "Whether that is a special counsel or federal agency, it must be done in order to rebuild the public trust in our Health Department."

"We no longer feel confident to allow a Health Department and a mayoral administration that has failed to protect the public safety so miserably to investigate themselves," Stamper II added.

In response, the mayor's office told TODAY'S TMJ4 their focus is on the city's children.

“We are focused on solving the problems and making sure the children in this city are appropriately protected. All too often public statements don’t even mention the children and that is the Mayor’s priority.”

After Health Commissioner Bevan Baker's resignation earlier this month, the mayor called for immediate fixes to the health department.

"I am angry, disappointed, and I am actively working with department staff to fix it right now," he said at the time.

On Monday, an audit revealed Milwaukee's health department has no record of conducting environmental investigations at more than 100 homes where children had elevated lead levels in their blood.

The report is a response to the health agency's admission this month that it didn't know whether it sent letters to more than 6,000 families whose children tested positive for elevated lead levels since 2015.

The audit says the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program is "deficient in several areas." It cites staffing shortages, inadequate training, high turnover due to low morale and shoddy record-keeping. The agency's troubles led to Baker's resignation. Barrett ordered the audit.

While Rainey did not go so far as to call for an outside investigation in his statement, he agrees that the mayor owes the Common Council more answers, saying he still doesn't know how many residents in his district are affected.

"By not knowing I feel I am being shut out and kept in the dark. It's an unfortunate crisis that they (families) didn't ask for, and that the Mayor claims he knew nothing about until reports started hitting the news media," Rainey said.

At a news conference Monday, Barrett said he would not sit idly by on the department's failures.

"I did not ask for a report to sugarcoat what the issues are," the mayor said. "I asked for a report to identify the problems, and that's what we've received. And I intend to act on these issues."

Lead is a powerful neurotoxin that causes significant harm, including speech and language delays, behavioral problems and death in rare cases.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.