SOUTHINGTON - Councilors continued to criticize the Bridge Family Center at Monday's town council meeting, vowing not to let the situation go.
The council was united in its anger at the large number of police calls and runaways at the center at 96 Birchcrest Drive, which acts as a temporary home for young girls removed from traumatic family situations.
"I am extremely disappointed by the response we got from the Commissioner of DCF (the Department of Children and Families)," said Councilor Dawn Miceli. "For a decade, they had an advisory council, and she said that she hopes the "ongoing conversation" can move forward - but obviously it hasn't. It has been that way for a decade and is obviously not working."
Councilor Victoria Triano said the Commissioner’s response to the town's concerns was "demeaning."
"They do not have a handle on the seriousness of this issue," she said. "The company is not meeting its responsibilities outlined in its contract, and there isn't even a therapeutic environment there. This is Southington; we are not going to let this go, we need to get these kids the help they need. They are looking for some structure in their lives. This is terrible for everyone involved."
Mike Rulnick, director of residential services at the Bridge Family Center attended the meeting and said during the Public Comment portion that the council was disparaging his company.
"The Bridge has an outstanding reputation in Connecticut," he said. "We are trying to work with the neighbors. We are not happy with how often we have to call police, but our number one priority is the safety of our girls. I respond to calls 24/7, and our program director has a master's degree as a licensed therapist. The girls are getting hours of therapy each week."
Triano urged the council to meet with whatever intermediaries the Commissioner directed them to.
Miceli pointed out that she had been notified that police responded to the center for a runaway situation that same night as the council meeting. She said the council should pursue license revocation for the center. She also urged the council to investigate how Manchester handled a similar issue in 2015.
Councilor John Barry stressed that the neighbors of the center are not unsympathetic to the girls at the center. However, he said that they are dealing with a chaotic situation that is "out of control."
Councilor Tom Lombardi said the council needs to assemble a list of legal options, and Town Manager Garry Brumback urged town staff to meet with Rulnick at another venue.
Triano thanked Rulnick for coming to the meeting and said it was the first time she has heard from anyone at the center.
"We need to talk about what we can do to change what is going on," she said. "Something must be done; it has gotten really bad."
Neighbors of the Center Dorothy Queen and Phillis Losier then attested to what living in the area was like.
"I just got home from vacation tonight, I had company, and there were two police cars and an ambulance at the center," said Queen. "I have lived here for 53 years, and there is constant commotion. I feel bad for these children, but they are not my problem, and I should not have to live like this."
Losier said she has heard girls screaming out the windows at 9 and 10 p.m. and that staff have come onto her lawn and sworn at her and given her the middle finger when questioned. Rulnik denied that his staff would do this.
Brian M. Johnson can be reached at 860-973-1806 or email@example.com.