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DCF boss does more listening than talking

Jerry Regier visits Tampa on a fact-finding tour and gently sidesteps questions about his philosophies.

By CURTIS KRUEGER, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 29, 2002

Jerry Regier visits Tampa on a fact-finding tour and gently sidesteps questions about his philosophies.

TAMPA -- The man picked to lead Florida's beleaguered social services agency made his first official visit to the Tampa Bay area on Wednesday, touring a nonprofit group that works with abused and neglected children and pleasantly brushing aside reporters' questions about his ideological views.

Jerry Regier said he had arrived to listen and learn, not to promote an agenda. "I want to come in and say, 'Where are we, and how can we serve kids?' "

Regier, whom Gov. Jeb Bush tapped to become secretary of the Department of Children and Families, met with caseworkers, managers and board members of Hillsborough Kids Inc., a nonprofit agency hired by state government to work with foster children and others.

He made headlines before officially taking over in Florida, partly because of an article with his name on it that advocated "biblical spanking" that causes only "temporary and superficial bruises or welts."

Regier reiterated that he had not written that article and did not agree with its views. He said Wednesday he had no intention of requiring DCF to become more tolerant of corporal punishment, adding that, "If that issue hadn't been brought up by the press, I wouldn't even be thinking about it."

Officials in the Hillsborough Kids meeting said Regier listened carefully and praised their programs but did not discuss any philosophical shift he intended to impose on the agency.

Regier has acknowledged writing another article that said women should be "helpmates" to their husbands and not work outside the home unless financially necessary. It also said that, "Most men have been so intimidated by theories on child-rearing that they discipline tentatively and often only as a last resort."

Regier said Wednesday that his purpose in writing the article was to say, "It's the responsibility, I think, of me as a father and a husband to support my wife, support my kids, to make sure they are able to become productive citizens."

Regier pointed out that his wife is a registered nurse who works for an infectious disease specialist.

While assessing the department he is set to take over next week, Regier said he would determine how caseworker salaries compare to other states'. Asked if he would push for a budget increase, he said, "I'm willing to do whatever is necessary in the less than two weeks" before he must draw up preliminary budget requests.

Regier said he would work hard to form partnerships with DCF and community groups across Florida, and to communicate well with them and the public.

"We're going to open the windows to the department, we're going to communicate, we're going to let people know what we're doing." He acknowledged that some things would go wrong, but told reporters that when that happens, "my commitment is to try to let you know before you let me know."

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