Bridge Center getting down to business after diversifying board

Metro Council members were disappointed Wednesday they didn’t get the report they’d asked for from the mayor’s office updating progress on the Bridge Center, a planned mental health diversion facility that will serve as an alternative to jail and the emergency room.

Chief Administrative Officer Darryl Gissel told council members the Bridge Center board is still getting organized, noting it has been just a little more than a month since voters approved a dedicated tax to fund the facility.

But some council members say they’re getting calls from constituents, who want to know why plans for the facility seem so half-baked.

“People have questions,” says Councilmember Donna Collins-Lewis. “Who is going to run it? Should there be a Request for Proposals? If so, why hasn’t there been one yet.”

Bridge Center Executive Director Kathy Kliebert, who was not asked to attend Wednesday’s meeting but plans to prepare a report for the council’s Feb. 6 meeting, says officials with the organization are trying to answer some of those questions but have been focused, first, on increasing the diversity of their board.

Until recently, Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul was the Bridge Center’s only African-American board member. In the past two weeks, however, five African-Americans have joined the board—either as new members or as replacements for white members.

They include Lauren Crump, Baton Rouge Area Foundation, which is the organizing force behind the Bridge Center; Gwen Hamilton, New Schools for Baton Rouge; Dennis Grimes, East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office; Gwen Knox, Capital Area Human Services District and Pastor Tonja Myles, Love Alive Church.

Crump replaced Patricia Calfee from BRAF, who had resigned, while Grimes replaced Sheriff Sid Gautreaux, who also had resigned.

Kliebert says the original board heard from local pastors and Metro Council members that it needed to diversify its ranks and agreed with the suggestion.

Now that the board is fully formed, it has created a finance committee that will begin to look at how much it will cost to get up and running and how best to secure seed funding to help with start-up efforts until the dedicated tax money is available in 2020.

Additionally, the board has created a program committee that will begin to look at whether it should issue an RFP for an outside firm to run the center and what that would entail.  

Kliebert says it’s too soon to say where the facility will be located and how much it will cost until the board gets a better handle on whether an outside provider will come in with a turnkey operation.

“Those are all things we need to do,” she says. “But task one was to get our board reconstituted.”

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