The governor appointed the leader of an influential behavioral health reform group 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, Gov. Brian Kemp announced Wednesday that he has appointed Kevin Tanner to serve as the state Department’s Commissioner of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities.
Tanner, who is currently the Forsyth County Executive, will report for work Dec. 16. He will succeed longtime Commissioner Judy Fitzgerald, who retired from state service this month and who has had a long career in behavioral health.
Tanner will bring a different perspective to the role. He was a former Republican state representative who sponsored the measure creating the Behavioral Health Reform and Innovation Commission in 2019, which advanced the recommendations that shaped historic bipartisan bill from last session and is currently drafting 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 passed several high-profile measures, including bills to improve transportation in rural areas of the state and expand regional transportation options.
Early in his career, Tanner served as a volunteer firefighter and deputy chief of the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office.
“Kevin Tanner is an able and dedicated leader who has made significant contributions to both the state and his community over more than three decades of public service,” Kemp said in a statement. “It is because of his forward-thinking approach at the helm of the (commission) that Georgia is now implementing meaningful improvements in the way we approach mental health. The Department will be in safe hands under his leadership.
State Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, a Democrat from Decatur who co-sponsored last year’s bill, said Tanner’s background gives her a deep understanding of the issues straining the state system. State.
“Kevin Tanner’s 30-year career in law enforcement, county management and legislation has given him a deep and deep understanding of mental illness and addiction,” Oliver said. “His leadership of the Behavioral Health Commission over the past two years has begun a nationally recognized reform – much needed for Georgian families.”
Jeff Breedlove, communications and policy chief for the Georgia Council for Recovery, which is the advocacy group formerly known as the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse, said Tanner’s appointment also signals that the focus on Improving access to mental health and treatment for substance abuse disorders in Georgia will continue.
“The governor is sending a clear signal, ‘Let’s get the positive policy going,'” Breedlove said.
Kemp named department veteran Monica Johnson as acting commissioner for a month. Johnson was sworn in at a board meeting Wednesday and said she was grateful to the governor for “giving me the leadership of the department during this very critical transition period.”
For now, Tanner is still chairman of the reform commission, which is expected to issue new recommendations in the coming weeks. He led the group’s 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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