Attorney Matthew Mac Kelly (left) with Janelle Grammer (right) at Grammer's
hearing before the City Council Tuesday evening.
hearing before the City Council Tuesday evening.
Embattled Public Health Administrator Janelle Grammer's trial before the City Council continued Tuesday night with bruising testimony that portrayed the department head as a nonexistent leader who gave half-hearted support to a program to prevent baby deaths.
The entire trial is playing out in public at Grammer's request. It's a stunning move given the barrage of negative testimony that's coming her way from former employees and her former boss. But the highly personal case is open to the public, including the media.
The bulk of Tuesday evening was spent on testimony from former City Administrator Ben Hughes, who Grammer accused of intimidating her for taking Family Medical Leave. A state investigator dismissed Grammer's claim.
Hughes testified that when he was hired former Administrator Steve Nenonen described Grammer as an underperforming city employee who was "in over her head." Hughes said he drew the same conclusion after working as her boss. (The JT's story from the first day of the trial also reported criticism of Grammer's job performance.)
Grammer's attorney Matthew Mac Kelly, of Milwaukee, attempted to pick apart Hughes' testimony during a two-hour cross examination. A key point was that Hughes sent Grammer a performance evaluation while Grammer was on medical leave in December 2008.
Hughes said it was only a follow-up to previous performance evaluations and was not in any way a retaliation against Grammer.
Infant Mortality Program
Regardless of the outcome of Grammer's trial, unfortunate details were released about the lack of progress in establishing a program to reduce Racine's infant mortality rate.
Dr. Teresa Johnson, of UW-Milwaukee, testified Grammer's leadership was "nonexistent" on creating the program, despite the city receiving $500,000 from the state to run the program. Johnson worked from the beginning to establish a program to review and prevent infant deaths in Racine.
"She provided no leadership whatsoever," Johnson said of Grammer.
Johnson added Grammer "slowed down" city efforts to implement the program.
Grammer's attorney entered a RacinePost article into the record as evidence that the infant mortality program was making progress under Grammer's leadership. Our article from February 2009 quotes state Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, as saying the program is "moving forward" and that he's "happy" with its progress.
As background to that story, we'd been hearing that Mason wasn't happy with the progress and that he'd been working with city officials to get the infant mortality prevention program going. That was supported by a memo from Hughes stating Grammer hadn't hired nurses for the program seven months after she was first asked to make the hires.
I've been following the infant mortality committee's work in Racine because the city has the highest infant mortality rate in the state. Mason's $500,000 grant was designed to help reduce the mortality rate (aka keeping babies alive), but there seems to be relatively minor progress for a program established over a year ago.
Fortunately, the city's Health Department is now making progress, according to monthly reports to the Board of Health. At last month's meeting, Healthy Birth Outcomes Coordinator Ana Stier reported hiring two nurses to make home visits to pregnant moms, and this month the program reported 47 home visits this year and 18 total cases.
But the program is still behind schedule, Johnson testified. The city was supposed to take over data collection responsibilities by the end of 2008, but wasn't ready to take on the job, Johnson said. Instead, UW-Milwaukee retained control of the collection and then stopped altogether, because the money ran out, she said.
Acting Public Health Administrator Marcia Fernholz said Tuesday night that the city intended to resume collecting data. She added that she's seeing progress in the infant mortality program, a fact Johnson reiterated during her testimony. Johnson said the program began moving forward once Fernholz was named acting head of the Health Department.
"She was able to provide leadership," Johnson testified about Fernholz.
But Johnson said the program has been embarrassment for the city of Racine.
"I can't tell you how many times I've had to apologize in public to state leaders," she testified.
To get an idea of the unusual circumstances of Grammer's hearing, no one on the City Council can remember ever holding a similar proceeding. (Usually, departing department heads reach some kind of settlement with the city and leave without demanding a trial.)
The case comes down to the city serving as prosecutor and making the case to remove Grammer, Grammer's attorney serving as the defense, the City Council is the jury and Mayor John Dickert and City Attorney Bob Weber act as judge.
The trial began Monday night and ran three hours before continuing Tuesday night for another nearly three hours. It's hardly close to finished.
The attorney representing the city said Tuesday he had six more witnesses to call and Grammer's attorney said he intended to have Grammer testify. The City Council also needs to deliberate before making a ruling.
The trial is expected to continue Thursday evening and probably extend into Friday. Alderman Aron Wisneski suggested it should continue into Saturday, if needed.
Dickert initially suggested to the council that the trial continue on June 24th and 25th, but Alderman Bob Mozol objected, saying the case should be finished as quickly as possible. Aldermen Terry McCarthy and Wisneski backed up Mozol, the lawyers got together and agreed to push on this week. (They couldn't continue Wednesday because a meeting could not be legally posted 24 hours in advance.)
Thursday's session is expected to start earlier - probably around 5:30 p.m. - to allow more testimony to be squeezed into the evening. The trial will resume with Mac Kelly's cross examination of Dr. Johnson, followed by the city's witnesses.