Before embarking on my career as city administrator, I was an advocate for patients at mental institutions in Massachusetts and at St. Elizabeth’s, the massive federal psychiatric facility, in Washington.

I loved my work and those to whom I was able to provide some aid.

I have never lost my sense of compassion or responsibility for those who struggle with mental illness (or those less fortunate in general).

In the intervening 30-plus years, however, I have gained a lot of valuable perspective as a city manager in three different communities.

I have come to appreciate that, for a community to be vibrant and healthy, it must be composed of a balance of people from across the societal spectrum.

There is definitely a point where an overconcentration of tax-exempt human service providers and those they serve overwhelms the community’s capacity to absorb them and still maintain its vibrance and prosperity.

All communities have a moral obligation to house and care for those amongst them who are legitimately in need, and Augusta’s residents have always behaved admirably in stepping up to the plate to meet that responsibility.

Just ask the dedicated souls who run the Bread of Life Ministries homeless shelters and soup kitchen and housing programs; the United Way; Crisis and Counseling Services; the food banks; the YMCA; the city’s numerous elderly housing complexes; Kennebec Behavioral Health; Motivational Services; the Teen Center; the Heat-helpers program; and the myriad other social service agencies based in Augusta.

For that matter, ask the administrators of Riverview Psychiatric Hospital about the ongoing support and assistance they receive from the various departments of city government, most notably police, fire and ambulance.

And this discussion is not complete without some reference to the significant presence of substance abuse facilities found in Augusta; the burdens associated with hosting the county jail; and the 150 registered sex offenders (at last count) living in rental units throughout the city.

Many of these people have no prior ties to Kennebec County, but settle here as a result of convenience of placement by state agencies.

No, it isn’t that Augusta residents lack sympathy and a willingness to host special needs populations.

It’s that over time the amount of support and accommodation demanded has become vastly disproportionate to the size of our city and the human capital and infrastructure we have to absorb it.

Recently, in conversation with senior state officials this finally was acknowledged — the first time in my 14 years in this position.

State officials also apologized for blind-siding us with a bombshell of a change in policy for housing potentially dangerous forensic patients and promised to restore state-funded mental health intensive case workers, which, amazingly, they had eliminated about the same time.

The Augusta residents who have spoken out on this highly charged issue are good people, justifiably concerned about the safety of their families and neighbors.

It is a big mistake to criticize them as uncaring or selfish.

It is far better to have the host community involved early and substantively in these policy decisions, to pay heed to its concerns, and pre-empt these problems before they can occur.

Bill Bridgeo is city manager of Augusta.

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