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Mayor Barrett: Health commissioner resigns after lead level notification snafu

Posted at 3:24 PM, Jan 12, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-12 20:07:15-05

After families were not properly notified when high levels of lead were found in children in the city of Milwaukee, Mayor Tom Barrett announced Friday that Health Commissioner Bevan Baker submitted his resignation. 

Baker was sworn in as the 16th commissioner of health in 2004 by Barrett. 

Barrett said at a news conference Friday that he had identified "mismanagement" in the Health Department that had left him "deeply disturbed" and "angry." 

Members of the Common Council sent out a joint statement after the mayor’s announcement. 

Today members of the Common Council learned that officers of the Milwaukee Health Department failed to ensure adequate notification of thousands of families whose children tested positive for elevated lead levels in their blood. This is an egregious public health failure that was in direct non-compliance with procedures put forth by Common Council resolution.
We will move forward to hold the executive branch accountable for this very serious failure and we will investigate in depth to determine what processes, procedures, or other matters, if any, have been ignored, not complied with, or have been mishandled by the Health Department.  The protection of our children must remain our highest priority.  Our review of this matter will be handled with a seriousness appropriate to a failure of this magnitude.
This marks a new day in the Common Council’s dealings with this administration with regard to policy, in general, and with appointments, in particular. We will exercise a new level of scrutiny and we will demand a new level of accountability.
Our fact-finding and review efforts into these matters will begin during a special Steering and Rules Committee meeting open to all Council members at 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, January 17, 2018.

Alderman Mark Borkowski went a step further to question Barrett's timing of the news conference and called for legal action. 

For an extended period of months, citizen activists have sounded an alarm about the City of Milwaukee’s lead water crisis and the slow response to it by the Barrett Administration. The single most serious threat to public health (maybe of all time) yet there have been times when things just didn’t seem right or add up about the city’s response.

Today, we learn that the Milwaukee Health Department failed to ensure adequate notification of thousands of families whose children tested positive for elevated lead levels in their blood. This huge failure stretching back to 2015 – according to the Mayor – was just brought to his attention earlier this week.
I find it a bit strange that the Mayor waits until today – Friday – (and the afternoon) to address the media about this huge failure. I have a feeling that there’s something strange going on here and I am certainly not buying everything the Mayor is telling us right now.

Some of us on the Council question all of the numbers that the Health Department has been dispensing, and I think the fair question is “are any of the numbers released by the Health Department over the past 15 years accurate?”

We have a primary, critical duty to protect the health and safety of our citizens and especially our children. I look forward to the Council’s investigation into this matter and, if need be, will encourage an investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office or the state Attorney General to understand the totality and depth of this crisis.

Anything short of that will be a gross failure on the part of the city.

This is a developing story. Stay with for updates.