By Nyesha Stone
Last week, Milwaukee Health Commissioner Bevan Baker resigned from his position, some say he was “forced” to resign due to allegations that his department wasn’t efficiently handling the issues of lead and the lead poisoning of children in Milwaukee.
Mayor Tom Barrett announced Baker’s decision on Jan. 12th, while also adding the department had issues pertaining to “mismanagement,” reported Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Since there is so much controversy surrounding the topic of lead, and more importantly, for safety reasons, the Common Council launched an investigation into the Milwaukee Health Department to uncover the city’s effort to decrease the lead issue.
There have been rumors that Baker was only given 20 minutes to clean out his office and he was escorted out, but Barrett denies those claims.
According to Barrett, he and Baker had a civil conversation about the situation, and they are on good terms.
Barrett said his main focus is getting children and adults tested for lead, but he does understand there are many unanswered questions which the Black community would like addressed.
“I’m more than happy to go anywhere and talk to anyone about what’s going on,” he said.
Common Council President Ashanti Hamilton was one of the many that were surprised by Baker’s resignation. Hamilton says Baker was responsive to requests from him and his office.
After serving 13 years as commissioner, Hamilton believes Baker should be proud of his service. However, when it comes to a new commissioner, he believes there are certain things we as the community should look for.
“It is critical that the next health commissioner prioritizes transparency with city officials and the public, especially regarding the plan for ensuring that are [sic] children out of harm’s way from lead exposure,” said Hamilton in an email. “The next health commissioner should have significant demonstrable experience as both an administrator and expert in the field of public health.”
Chief Executive Officer of the Social Development Commission, George Hinton also agreed the next commissioner should be an expert in the health field.
Hinton, like many others, isn’t sure about the “true” reason Baker resigned but he’s sure it’s more complicated than what’s being reported.
“There’s always two sides to a story,” said Hinton.
Hinton is a friend of Baker and says if Baker did do any wrong it wasn’t intentional.
“Whenever a person of color leaves a significant position you feel bad as a person of color,” he said.
Talk show host Michelle Bryant was also in disbelief after hearing the news. She viewed Baker as “professional, competent and committed to the well-being of this community.”
“From all that I am aware of Mr. Baker did a good job as commissioner,” said Bryant in an email. “He has lead the city through several health crisis’s [sic] and by all accounts they seem to have gone well.”
She also went on to say, “This is a man who takes a great deal of personal pride in his job and nothing about these allegations regarding his performance on the lead issue align with the man many in the community have come to know.”
Bryant recalled, during his years as Health Commissioner, Baker handled the 2009 swine flu outbreak, began an opioid task force, worked on violence prevention, combated infant mortality and more.
With the mayor calling Baker out on his possible wrongdoings, Bryant wants to know who else is held responsible for Milwaukee lead issues, and if they’re going to be reprimanded.
“It’s ironic that the individual, Paul Nannis, who handled one of Milwaukee’s most notorious health episodes, cryptosporidium, in which 403,000 people were sickened and that had at least 69 related deaths, was named interim Commissioner with Baker’s removal,” she wrote.
According to Bryant, many Milwaukee residents remember the lack of communication during that time between the public and “involved” stakeholders which included complaints from residents about the water. Instead of offering a more permanent solution, Bryant believed the health department wasted more time telling residents to boil their water.
“I don’t remember who got fired in that incident, but it wasn’t Paul Nannis,” Bryant said. “It just always seems like there is a different standard for African- Americans in leadership roles.”
The city is now on a nation-wide search for a new commissioner, but as of right now Nannis will take on the position. However, according to Barrett, Nannis has made it clear he doesn’t want this position to be permanent.
There is no certain timeline of when the lead issues will be resolved but Barrett said they’re currently working on it.