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Politics

Butterworth will lead DCF

By JONI JAMES
Published December 20, 2006


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TALLAHASSEE - In a move that won praise across Florida's social and political divides, Republican Gov.-elect Charlie Crist hired former Democratic Attorney General Bob Butterworth on Tuesday to run the state's most troubled agency, the Department of Children and Families.

"He's a fixer," Crist promised as he introduced Butterworth, whom Crist succeeded as attorney general. "He's the kind of guy who comes in and gets things done."

Butterworth, 64, served an unprecedented four terms as attorney general until he was forced out by term limits.

He replaces Lucy Hadi, a DCF veteran who ran the agency for two years. Butterworth inherits a department cursed with high turnover among social workers, chronic cries for more funding and a newly privatized foster care system added by Gov. Jeb Bush that has drawn heavy criticism, including lawsuits alleging mistreatment of the state's wards.

Most recently, the agency angered judges over its inability to move severely mentally ill people from county jails to treatment facilities.

Butterworth, whose salary is not yet determined, offered no specifics about how he planned to reshape the state's social service agency, nor did he or Crist discuss whether they anticipate staying the course Bush has charted for the past eight years in privatizing the state's foster care to community agencies.

But Crist, who kept Butterworth's attorney general shop largely intact when he took over in 2003, said he was optimistic that the man who was "the best attorney general in Florida" could tackle the job. "The willingness of this great man to come to this administration, it makes (my) burden that much lighter," he said.

Butterworth, now dean of St. Thomas University's law school in Miami Gardens, suggested he was wooed to the post by a desire for a new challenge. And he sang the praises of the agency's workforce, marveling how despite the things they see every day, "They never give up hope."

"What greater job is there in government than to protect the people of the state, especially children?" Butterworth said.

"I don't know what the biggest problems are until I sit down," he continued. "But I do know 80 percent of the people in our jails and prisons today who are there by a charge of violence, were abused or saw abuse in their homes. ... This is a chance to prevent crime in the future."

In choosing Butterworth, Crist has embraced one of the oldest names in Florida Democratic circles, a former judge, sheriff, mayor and state highway safety secretary. The only political blemish on his record was his embarrassing loss in 2002, when he launched a late campaign for the state Senate in Broward County and lost to Republican banker Jeff Atwater of North Palm Beach.

Crist has also picked a man who has seen personal tragedy; his first attorney general victory in 1986 was overshadowed election eve by the murder-suicide committed by his ex-wife that claimed the life of their 16-year-old son, Robert Butterworth III.

Butterworth and his second wife, Marta Prado, have two teenage children.

"He offers the complete package when it comes to understanding the sorrow of a lost child and knowing how to protect children from his days as a sheriff," said former Rep. Ron Greenstein, D-Greenacres, a friend who attended Tuesday's announcement.

But Greenstein was far from alone in his praise. The chorus of enthusiasm was joined by Atwater, Gov. Jeb Bush, other Republicans, as well as a slew of social service advocates. Karen Gievers of Tallahassee and Howard Talenfeld of Fort Lauderdale, prominent lawyers who have sued the agency over the past 20 years on behalf of children, supported the appointment.

Bush's spokesman, Alia Faraj, said, "The governor thought this was a brilliant appointment. He truly admires Bob Butterworth."

Barry University law professor Gerard Glynn, whose work focuses on family law, questioned whether Butterworth has the administrative acumen for "the worst job in the world."

"I wish him the best, but my preference would be for an experienced administrator in child welfare rather than a politician," Glynn said.

Butterworth conceded the challenge is big.

"It probably is perhaps the most rewarding job, the most demanding job that you know when you're going into it, you're probably not going to do all you want to do," he said, "but you want to move the ball as far forward as you can, for the children and the people of the state of Florida."

Times staff writers Curtis Krueger and Alisa Ulferts and researcher Catherine Wos contributed to this report.

Bob Butterworth

Age: 64

Family: married to Marta Prado; they have two children.

Current job: law school dean at St. Thomas University, Miami Gardens

Previous public office: Florida attorney general, 1987-2003; also Broward County sheriff, Broward County circuit judge, mayor of Sunrise, secretary of the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles

DCF turmoil

April 2002: DCF officials admit they cannot find 5-year-old Rilya Wilson. Her DCF-approved caregiver is later charged with killing the girl.

May 2002: DCF says it can't locate 515 children in its care, but says most are runaways.

August 2002: Journalists locate nine of the missing children using public records. DCF Secretary Kathleen Kearney resigns and Bush names former Oklahoma social services head Jerry Regier to replace her.

August 2004: Regier resigns after an inspector general's investigation shows he and two of his top technology employees accepted favors from lobbyists or contractors.

December 2004: Lucy Hadi, a 30-year career DCF official, is named to replace Regier.

December 2006: Hadi is fined $80,000 on a contempt of court charge for failing to remove mentally ill inmates from a jail as required by law. She announces her intention to resign.

Source: Times archives

[Last modified December 20, 2006, 00:55:36]


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