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Bush adds three to DCF advisory panel

A lawyer, a children's foundation director and a foster parent have been selected in a bid to make the panel diverse.

©Associated Press

August 20, 2002

A lawyer, a children's foundation director and a foster parent have been selected in a bid to make the panel diverse.

TALLAHASSEE -- Gov. Jeb Bush appointed three new members Monday to a panel studying problems at the state's child welfare agency in an effort to add diversity to the group.

H.T. Smith, a lawyer and advocate in Miami's black community; Nestor Rodriguez, executive director of Voices For Children Foundation Inc.; and foster parent Juli Millsap from Miami-Dade County were added to the Blue Ribbon Panel on Child Protection.

"We were seeking additional input from more members of the community and these people's qualifications make them perfectly suited to address the issues that are before this task force," Bush spokeswoman Katie Muniz said. The agency has been under fire since April, when it was revealed that 5-year-old Rilya Wilson disappeared while in state custody. The Miami girl has been missing since January 2001 and no caseworker had checked on her for 15 months.

State Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami, criticized the Republican governor when he first named the panel to exam the Department of Children and Families because no minorities were on it.

"At least he has diversified the panel," Wilson said Monday. "He has placed one black person, one Hispanic and another white. Is that really reflective of our community?"

She praised Smith for his advocacy work, but said he doesn't have experience in child welfare.

"The governor was trying to placate the black community by selecting one of our . . . heroes," Wilson said. "We can't say he didn't diversify it, though his methods are questionable, very questionable."

Smith has practiced law in Miami for 25 years, specializing in criminal defense, civil rights and civil matters.

Rodriguez's group provides support for abused and neglected children in Miami-Dade County.

Millsap and her husband have been foster parents since 1991 and have adopted five children.

Muniz said the three will be briefed on the panel's work before participating in its final meeting Sept. 23 in Miami.

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