Excerpt from a Betty Bean column on Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett’s dispute with Gov. Bill Haslam, who the former state senator says had indicated the state would help with funding for a behavioral health urgent care unit (formerly known as the safety center).
Knox County put $1 million aside for the facility several years ago, plus another $200,000 in this year’s budget. Mayor Madeline Rogero has set aside $200,000. That won’t be enough, but Burchett vowed to find the money and dismissed the explanation he was given for the administration’s decision.
“I was misled about that, and I’m very put out about it. I was told, ‘Mental health is a local issue.’ Well, dadgummit, then, why do we have a Department of Mental Health in the state of Tennessee?”
He said the largest mental health hospitals in the state are the Shelby County, Davidson County and Knox County jails, and didn’t dodge the question of whether denial of state funds amounts to a broken promise by Gov. Bill Haslam:
“Yes. I’m of the opinion it was – but regardless of the state’s partnership, we’re going to go ahead with it…”
Burchett said about half of mentally ill inmates are veterans and accused the governor of breaking his promise that funding would follow the patients after he shut down Lakeshore Institute in 2012.
“We closed down Lakeshore and everybody loves Lakeshore Park – but where are those people going? You drive under any major bridge in Knoxville, you’ll see the human cost.”
A couple of days after his talk show appearances, Burchett still hadn’t cooled off, and said he was offended that Haslam was pleading budget constraints while spending $8 million subsidizing the TV show “Nashville.”
“They pulled the rug out from under us. I don’t like it when they start explaining that they didn’t get as much money as they expected, but I see all these little projects getting funded. I spent 16 years in the Legislature, was on the Senate Finance Committee and chaired the Budget Subcommittee. I know the system and I don’t like hearing that crap. I know that taking care of the mentally ill’s not sexy like that miserable TV show – which has been cancelled, thank goodness – but when they talk about return on investment, I say, ‘What about investing in somebody not going to jail when what they need is treatment?’”