"I feel like I've seen this movie before: The director leaves; it takes a long time to replace them; then we hear allegations of negligence.
"Last year, around this time, we were talking about the animal shelter and mistreating animals. Now we've upgraded to mistreating victims of crime. This is not a national model. It's a disgrace."
So said Councilman Shea Flinn during the City Council's executive committee meeting on the Memphis Sexual Assault Resource Center today.
After a contentious public services and neighborhood committee meeting earlier in the day, council chair Myron Lowery agreed to discuss the Memphis Sexual Assault Resource Center during executive session. (For more on the earlier meeting, go here.)
Though Public Services director Ken Moody and deputy director Yalanda McFadgon were in the earlier committee meeting, they left the room before the discussion of MSARC began. CAO Keith McGee told the council the mayor had asked him to answer their questions.
In spite of the controversy, McGee said the center continues to be a national model. Flinn disagreed.
"A national model does not turn away a 14-year-old rape victim and tell her to come back in two weeks," Flinn said.
The so-called national model does seem to have its share of problems, with issues in staffing, finances, and overall management.
The mayor announced yesterday that Le Bonheur would perform examinations and collect evidence for victims of sexual assault who are minors, but there is some question what that will solve. The center is in the process of hiring additional nurses at a higher rate of compensation.
"If we're committed to a national model, then why would we outsource any of the services to Le Bonheur?" asked councilman Jim Strickland.
[I've written about MSARC for this week's paper edition and, in doing so, talked to a former staffer at the center. A nurse with more than 15 years experience at the center, she didn't want to be identified.
She thinks splitting the adult and child functions of the center is not about what's best for the victim.
"It's about other people's agenda," she said. "The system has worked for years. Why reinvent the wheel? Just let nurses do what they need to do."
Unfortunately, she also described an organization that in recent months didn't respect the nurses it employed.
"It's not glamorous. It's getting up in the middle of the night and doing pelvic exams, collecting evidence. It's working with people who have been traumatized. it's crisis work," she said. "These are women who have other jobs. The nurses there are all part-time. They didn't do it for the money."]
The city is reimbursed by the federal government for performing victim exams and gets grant funding from the state. Though where that money is currently going is still something of a mystery — the administration is currently trying to reconcile what funds it received — the city hasn't discussed with Le Bonheur how that money will be divided in the future.
Nor are many of the specifics worked out with Le Bonheur, leaving council members to ask why the city would announce the partnership before it was actually in place.
McGee introduced the center's new manager, Betty Winters, but it was Moody and McFadgon that council members wanted to talk to.
"Ken Moody and Yalanda McFadgon did leave the room. I would have liked to be able to ask them some questions," said member Bill Boyd. "We all make mistakes, though I think we can learn from those mistakes."
"I wanted to hear from the people directly responsible for the rape crisis center, but they're not here," Kemp Conrad said.
He also asked if anyone would be held responsible for the problems. McGee said the mayor is assessing what's happened at the center in the last few weeks and months.