Assistant City Manager Colleen Bridger, who has played a key part in the local government response to the coronavirus pandemic, will step down from her job on July 17 after three years working for the City, according to a statement from City officials Friday.
Bridger, who served as director of Metropolitan Health District for nearly two years until she was promoted in 2019, plans to launch a private consulting business in San Antonio.
“I actually started thinking about this before the pandemic,” Bridger told the Rivard Report. “I’m just ready for a [professional] change.”
Leaving the City during a pandemic was a difficult choice to make, but she said crisis operations have become a “well-oiled machine.”
“We’ve got all the systems in place,” she said, noting the indicator dashboard and all the work done by the health and business transition teams. “They don’t really need me anymore. I see my role as a problem-solver, and I feel like three months in, we’re in pretty good shape.”
But she wanted to give plenty of notice because she wants to help develop the COVID-19 recovery and resilience plan that will launch this summer, she said.
“Colleen is a valued member of our executive team, and she has shown extraordinary leadership during this public health crisis,” City Manager Erik Walsh stated in a press release. “While I am sorry to see her go, I fully support her and her decision to pursue other exciting opportunities. For now, though, she remains a critical part of the City’s efforts, and her job responsibilities will not change.”
She plans on staying in San Antonio.
“I’m still going to be doing the kind of work that I’m doing now, just outside of the government realm,” she said. “I very much want to focus on problem-solving for the common good.”
That work will involve public health “to the extent that public health is at the root of most of society’s ills,” she said. “One of the things I really love is organizational problem-solving. So if a nonprofit needs a little bit of help with a business plan or strategic plan I’d like to be involved with that. If they need an interim CEO for a couple months … I’m just looking to do a variety of things – but all things that contribute to that common good.”
Going into the private industry after working in the public sector since 1997 will allow her to be much more aggressive and flexible when it comes to tackling problems, Bridger said. “One of the things I’m really good at is efficiently getting stuff done and sometimes that efficiency part gets diluted when you work for a public agency. And that’s by design because the public needs to have input and the public needs to know what you’re doing. … If I’m just working for myself as a consultant, I can just crank this stuff out.”
As the City’s former health director, Bridger played a large role in coordinating the City’s response to the pandemic. Her successor, Dawn Emerick, had been on the job less than two weeks when evacuees from a coronavirus-ridden cruise ship arrived at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland.
Under the first year of Bridger’s Metro Health leadership, the City raised the legal age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21. She also spent a year getting the health department nationally accredited. As assistant city manager, she also played a key role in the City’s response to an influx of immigrants in spring 2019 as it opened a vacant storefront across from the Greyhound bus station downtown to serve as a migrant resource center. She also oversaw the development of the comprehensive domestic violence plan and the City’s status report on poverty.
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The poverty report has been overshadowed by the pandemic, she said, “but it has been the foundation for this recovery and resilience plan that we’re working on now, so it certainly wasn’t wasted effort.”
Before moving to San Antonio, she was the health director of Stokes County, Gaston County, and Orange County health departments in North Carolina.
Bridger received a bachelor’s degree in international development at the School for International Training in Vermont, masters of public health from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a doctorate in health services research from the University of North Carolina, Charlotte.