‘Nothing but window dressing:’ Groups critical of mayor’s plan to combat lead issues

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MILWAUKEE -- Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett has announced his 2019 budget proposal includes $20 million to deal with the city's lead issues -- calling it an "unprecedented investment," but not everyone is on board.

Leaders with two groups, Freshwater For Life Action Coalition and the Original Black Panthers they're not confident in this plan to tackle lead water and paint problems.

Flanked by members of the Original Black Panthers, Robert Miranda with FLAC held a news conference Monday, Sept. 24, in which he asked Mayor Barrett if he believes his own staff lied to him regarding the severity of the lead problems.

"We're tired of this cat and mouse game being played. If that's the case, the mayor should be pursuing this case much more aggressively, demanding answers or referring these matters to the DA or Unities States attorney," said Miranda.

Miranda was critical of how much time it is taking to replace aging water pipes and lead paint in homes.

Lead paint chips on window

"You can't do anything unless you have a comprehensive strategic plan in place, which he doesn't," said Miranda.

On Sunday, Mayor Barrett talked about his budget proposal and his plan to deal with the lead issues.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett

"It's different funding sources, but the total amount will actually exceed $20 million, which again. from my analysis. is an unprecedented investment in dealing with these two issues," said Mayor Barrett.

More than $12 million would be used to replace 1,000 lead lines and nearly $8 million would be used to remove lead paint in older homes.

"That $20 million is nothing but window dressing. A comprehensive strategic plan is what we need!" said Miranda.

"I take these issues extremely seriously, and when I realized there were problems, that's when we started making the changes that we started making earlier this year," said Mayor Barrett.

Also Monday, on this topic, Alderman Mark Borkowski and Alderman Bob Donovan issued statements:

"According to documents obtained by the Journal Sentinel, for the last two years (2016 & 2017), the city did not clean-up a single house with lead poisoned children living in it. What a disgrace?

Why would anyone who works in the Health Department allow this to happen? All we find is former health staffers created a “toxic work environment.” The work environment should be productive, and yet, nobody put the focus on the most vulnerable of victims, children up to age of six-years-old whose brains are developing and to whom lead is causing permanent damage.

The article dealing with staff deals with internal troubles, but not once does anyone say anything about these innocent children. Do I really care about someone’s “lunch hour” when the most vulnerable of our community is being affected? Where are our priorities? How do we get to this stage? Two years? Shame on us." (Alderman Borkowski statement)

"Other than Common Council President Hamilton and Finance and Personnel Committee Chair Alderwoman Coggs (and I’m told only after they insisted late last week) no members of the Common Council were briefed by Mayor Barrett on his proposed 2019 city budget.

Of course the mayor did his usual pre-budget address sit down with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (an article appeared in Sunday’s paper) but again, he provided no briefing to me or other Council members and only provided one to the Council’s top leaders after they insisted. It appears the mayor holds the Journal Sentinel in higher regard than he does the Council!

Most engaged citizens in our city recognize that Milwaukee is governed by a mayor and a Common Council. Apparently this important fact is not something the mayor embraces or believes important.

At first I thought it must just be me because of all of my criticisms directed at the mayor and his administration over the years. But I wasn’t alone – no one was getting a briefing – no way, no how.

This lack of respect for the Council by our mayor disturbs me and it ought to disturb our citizens. It’s always best when the mayor and the Council work together for the best interests of the City of Milwaukee. Too often the mayor has decided to go it alone, but I’d argue that approach has not gone so well for him.

Going it alone has not been too productive for the mayor and has left us with a Health Department that’s in shambles. And now we are seeing desperate budget efforts to play catch up!

The citizens of Milwaukee deserve an effective and coherent city government that’s firing on all cylinders.

Time for the mayor to recognize that effective governing of our great city is a two-way street." (Alderman Donovan statement)

Mayor Barrett will outline his 2019 budget Tuesday before the Common Council.

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