Questions are still being raised about how revenue from a new property tax will be used to build and fund the operations of a mental health facility in East Baton Rouge Parish.
Metro Council members had hoped a report from the mayor's office would provide some clarity on the Bridge Center's involvement in the operation of the proposed crisis facility.
But Chief Administrative Officer Darryl Gissel told Metro Council members on Wednesday that it'll take at least 30 more days before they'll see something in writing regarding the allocation of revenue from the 1.5-mill mental health tax and the stipulations of a proposed agreement outlining the operations of the crisis center.
"It seems sketchy, all over the place, because no one has a clear understanding of how this is going to go," Councilwoman Donna Collins-Lewis told Gissel and representatives from the Bridge Center. "We were told we'd have something to look at."
Gissel said a draft of a cooperative endeavor agreement is circulating but is awaiting review by the Parish Attorney's Office before it can be presented to the Metro Council for review.
The 1.5-mill mental health tax was championed by the Bridge Center, a nonprofit set up by the Baton Rouge Area Foundation to provide a crisis center where people who need urgent psychiatric care can be stabilized and receive treatment as an alternative to an emergency room or Parish Prison. The district attorney, police chief and coroner all supported the tax and sit on the Bridge Center board, as does the sheriff's jail warden.
Gissel and Bridge Center officials were told by Metro Council members that written plans might ease mounting concerns over an apparent lack of transparency and accountability related to the setup of the new facility.
Because the Bridge Center is a nonprofit and not a government agency, revenue from the tax can be allocated to the center only through a cooperative endeavor agreement.
Wednesday's night discussion spilled over from last month's debate in the council chambers on the topic. Some members of the public expressed concerns over how speedy the process was going and they wanted a say in how mental health is addressed in the community.
Baton Rouge leaders are struggling to come to an accord over how to collect local property taxes, including a longstanding millage for librari…
The Committee to Support Equitable Healthcare for All has argued in the past that the tax revenue should be allocated to an existing government agency like Capital Area Human Services, which they said has a narrower focus and is better suited to manage a mental health facility.
The committee has also questioned the Bridge Center's ability to manage the facility because the center's board lacked representatives with behavioral health experience.
The Rev. Alexis Anderson, a member of the committee, noted the Bridge Center was not the named provider when the tax was being sold to voters but it now appears to be the pick to secure the contract to manage the facility.
"We believe there should be a Request for Proposals where everyone has to be vetted to the public and the deal not be made in private meetings," Anderson told the Metro Council.
Earlier Wednesday, Jennifer Harding, head of the nonprofit Progressive Social Network, noted in a Facebook post the lack of information the Bridge Center has provided to the public: "If you go to the Bridge Center's website they have something listed as a 'business plan' but the very first page basically says this is not an actual business plan, if we had a business plan we would include the following, and we plan to make a business plan in the future.
"At the very least, tax funds shouldn't be released to an agency that has no plan," Harding said.
On their second try, mental health and law enforcement advocates convinced voters to pass a property tax to fund a psychiatric crisis center.
Kathy Kliebert, chairwoman of the Bridge Center's board of directors, agreed to publicize minutes from board meetings going forward and to soon release a comprehensive plan outlining the scope of services the facility will provide and who it will partner with to do it.
She was joined Wednesday night by members from the center's 19-member board, which she said was recently revamped to add members with expertise in mental health issues.
"We're just in the early stage of the process," Kliebert said. "It's not like we're making decisions and not telling people. This is just a long process."