Veteran state legislator appointed to lead mental health reform efforts in Georgia

The governor has appointed the chair of the influential Behavioral Health Reform Commission to lead the state agency responsible for Georgia’s safety net system for people with disabilities and behavioral health needs.

A week after winning another term, Governor Brian Kemp announced Wednesday that he has appointed Kevin Tanner as commissioner of the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities.

Tanner, who is currently the county manager for Forsyth County, will report to work on December 16. He will succeed longtime commissioner Jody Fitzgerald, who Retired from state service This month he has a long career in behavioral health.

Tanner would bring a different perspective to the role. He is a former Republican state representative who sponsored the measure that created the Commission on Behavioral Health Reform and Innovation in 2019, which pushed forward recommendations that made up Historic bill for the past bipartisan session It is currently formulating new recommendations for the next session.

When he left the state house to run for Congress in 2020, he was Chairman of the Transportation Committee. He made several high-profile actions, including bills aimed at improving transportation in rural areas of the state and increasing regional transportation options.

The governor appointed veteran Monica Johnson to serve as interim commissioner for a month. Image provided by the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities

Early in his career, Tanner was a volunteer firefighter and deputy chief for the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office.

“Kevin Tanner is a capable and dedicated leader who has made significant contributions to both the country and his community over more than three decades of public service,” Kemp said in a statement. “With his forward-thinking approach as chair (of the commission), Georgia is now implementing meaningful improvements in how we treat mental health. The department will be in good hands under his leadership.”

State Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, a Decatur Democrat who co-sponsored the bill last year, said Tanner’s background gives him a deep understanding of the problems pressing the state system.

“Kevin Tanner’s 30-year career in law enforcement, county management, and legislation has given him a deep and objective understanding of mental illness and substance abuse,” Oliver said. “His leadership of the Commission on Behavioral Health over the past two years has initiated nationally recognized reform — so much needed for Georgia families.”

Tanner’s appointment also indicates that a heavy focus on improving access to treatment for mental health and substance use disorders in Georgia will continue, said Jeff Breedlove, president of communications and policy with the Georgia Council on Recovery, an advocacy group formerly known as the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse.

“The governor is clearly sending a signal, ‘Let’s keep positive policy moving forward,'” Breedlove said.

Kemp has hired veteran Monica Johnson to serve as interim commissioner for a month. Johnson was sworn in Wednesday during a recalled board meeting and said she was grateful to the governor for “entrusting me with leading the department during this very critical transitional period.”

For now, Tanner continues to serve as chair of the reform-oriented committee, which is set to issue new recommendations in the coming weeks. Chair the group meeting on Wednesday.

“This is the decade of mental health reform, and we have a lot of work to do,” Tanner said Wednesday.

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