Hector Colon’s in the Hot Seat

Sep. 15, 2016
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County Executive Chris Abele tried to delay this as much as possible, but Health and Human Services Director Hector Colon’s bid for reappointment was rejected 3-2 in yesterday’s Health and Human Needs Committee meeting. It goes to the full board on Sept. 22 with a “no” recommendation. 

Colon was grilled all morning on his handling of the Milwaukee youth sent to Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake. The county is trying to move the Milwaukee kids back to the community, but not much is happening. Supervisors, already frustrated with the lack of urgency from Colon and his staff, became positively indignant—rightfully so—when they found out yesterday that six youth at Lincoln Hills attempted suicide in a 36-hour period and some are trying to get into solitary confinement simply to avoid the staff’s racial slurs. 

Think about that. 

Colon apparently knew these facts last week but waited until yesterday to relay them to the committee. 

Colon didn’t go down without a fight. 

I’m sure with the aid of his PR person, Racine-based Kimberly Kane, who has somehow been the recipient of an eye-popping $869,266 in county contracts, Colon had a slew of people testify on his behalf. 

What’s interesting to note about this is that Colon required BHD employees to sign a gag order last year, which prevents them from criticizing the administration in public—it even prohibits sarcasm. Incredibly, vendors who do business with BHD also have to sign this gag order. 

Colon also failed to mention that the BHD administration is renegotiating all of its contracts with its vendors. Do you really think that any agency is going to criticize Colon when their financial livelihood is at stake? 

Colon boasted that admissions to the county's mental health hospital are down. But he failed to mention why: there isn’t enough staff to cover 60 adult beds, and the average daily census is 47-48. He also failed to mention the unacceptable amount of time patients are put in restraints. (Hours of physical restraint rate for adult patients are 7.2; the goal is 0.66. For children and adolescents, that’s 5.2; the goal is 0.22.) And, oh yeah, his administration pushed to block a routine audit into patient staff and safety at the hospital, one that was conducted without controversy during the Walker administration. 

A few people did speak out against Colon, and these seemed to tip the supervisors on the board against Colon. 

Supervisor Jason Haas, whose district includes the controversial group home on Uncas Avenue, called out Colon for keeping Haas and everyone else in the dark on the facility. Colon has hid behind patient confidentiality rules on this from the start. As problems became public, Colon repeatedly said that there was nothing anyone could do to change things. Haas took umbrage at that and on Wednesday testified that he and Ald. Terry Witkowski and state Rep. Christine Sinicki were able to work with the vendor, Karl Rajani, to resolve some of the problems. 

“I was told I could do nothing,” Haas said. 

Supervisor Steve Taylor also criticized Colon. Like Haas, a Rajani group home was placed in his district and there are troubles there. But Taylor took issue with the way that Abele is staggering his appointments. Instead of putting them up for appointment at the beginning of a new term, Abele’s dragging it out. Too, Abele is arguing that contrary to past practice, the appointments are for four years, not until the end of his term. That means that few of his department heads will go up for appointment in this first part of Abele’s new term. Taylor said that wasn’t his understanding, or the board’s understanding, when they confirmed Abele’s appointees in the last term, and he doesn’t like this bait and switch. 

Taylor said yesterday he was undecided on whether to reconfirm Colon at next Thursday’s board meeting. 

Those voting to reject Colon’s appointment were Marina Dimitrijevic, Supreme Moore Omokunde and Sequanna Taylor. Voting in favor of Colon were Abele’s frequent allies on the board, Deanna Alexander and Tony Staskunas, although they said Colon had room for improvement if he is reconfirmed. 

You can bet that Colon is counting votes as much as I am. 

Here’s a statement from Moore Omokunde on why he voted to reject Colon’s reappointment: 

Supervisor Moore Omokunde Votes Against Reconfirmation of Hector Colón as Director of the Department of Health and Human Services 

MILWAUKEE – The Health and Human Needs committee of the Milwaukee County Board voted three to two against reconfirming Hector Colón as the Director of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) on Wednesday, after several hours of testimony on Lincoln Hills and other issues.

County Executive Abele recommended reappointment of Colón, who has served as the head of DHHS for nearly five years. Abele also testified in support of Colón during the committee meeting.

Supervisor Moore Omokunde, who chairs the Health and Human Needs committee, released the following statement.

“I went into today’s committee meeting with an open mind and a desire to vote in favor of Director Colón’s reappointment, but after the revelations we heard during testimony, particularly with regards to the ongoing tragedy at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake, I could not in good conscience vote “yes.”

“Over the past several months I have worked with Director Colón on many important matters and we have developed a positive working relationship. We made good progress in several areas, including juvenile justice, and I was hoping to continue working with him on this and other urgent priorities.

“Despite the significant progress we have seen on various issues, I am concerned that some very troubling facts – such as the news that Lincoln Hills recently saw five suicide attempts in a 36-hour period, and that youth are actually requesting solitary confinement to escape the racial slurs of staff – only came to light at the last minute, during this hearing, rather than when the information first became known to Director Colón.

“Director Colón also hasn’t taken sufficient action on County policy to create local placement alternatives, so that Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake are not the only options available to our judiciary.

“Transparency is essential to the functioning of good government and when department heads are not forthcoming with information we need as elected representatives it is part of our oversight responsibility to ensure accountability by taking appropriate action.

“Sadly, the lack of transparency and forthrightness on the part of Director Colón seems to fit a pattern of behavior we have seen from this administration, where County Board Supervisors and the public are only given the bare minimum of information that appointees think we need, rather than all of the available information. This is unacceptable.”




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