New law limits supervisor authority
At issue was whether the new law bars supervisors from calling on county department heads to issue written or verbal reports. Gov. Scott Walker signed the measure Friday, which cuts the board’s authority on labor and land deals and bars supervisors from intervening in day-to-day county operations.
The initial refusal by health administrators to disclose details of the report during an agenda-setting meeting Tuesday for the board’s Health and Human Needs Committee led to criticism by County Board Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic.
She and other supervisors say the new law is vague on the limits of their oversight power. The law gives supervisors the right to request information from county managers but is silent on whether it should be provided in written or verbal form.
“It’s an absolute disservice to the people of Milwaukee County,” Dimitrijevic said. “They were promised streamlining and efficiency (from the new law), and all we are getting is mass confusion.”
It’s especially disconcerting given the high-profile disclosures of patient abuse uncovered at the complex, Dimitrijevic said. The death of a young patient at the complex in October from complications of a broken neck led to an earlier declaration by federal inspectors that patients at the complex were in immediate jeopardy.
That status was lifted late last year, but new and as-yet undisclosed problems have led to additional citations.
In addition, the Journal Sentinel’s “Chronic Crisis” series Sunday reported that some patients repeatedly cycle through stays at the complex, discharge into the community and return to the complex. One-third of the patients return within 90 days and some come far more frequently, the series found.
Supervisor Peggy Romo West said she requested a report from county staff on an inspection of the Mental Health Complex in April, which led to a finding of deficiencies against the hospital. Romo West is chairwoman of the board’s health committee.
Romo West said Hector Colón, director of the county Health and Human Services Department, and Kathleen Eilers, administrator of the complex, refused to immediately comply.
“Hector said you are not allowed to ask us for informational reports anymore,” Romo West said. The comments were made at a session to determine the agenda for next week’s committee meeting.
After consulting with a county lawyer, Colón agreed to provide a verbal report at the committee hearing.
Deputy Corporation Counsel Mark Grady declined to comment on advice he gave at Tuesday’s session.
County Executive Chris Abele said the supervisors’ complaints about the law and response of administrators were unfounded. Supervisors will get the information about the inspection at the complex next week, Abele said.
“There’s no obstructionism, nor will there be,” he said. “The board was told, yes, you can get a verbal report and we’ll happily do that.”
Abele said he told his department heads at an internal meeting Monday to respond to supervisors’ requests for information.
“The board is perfectly entitled to ask any question of staff about the operations of the county and get the answer,” he said.
Dimitrijevic said she’s close to choosing an outside law firm to advise the board on the new law and whether any portions of it should be challenged.