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State refuses to step into juvenile justice fray

The Pinellas-Pasco board members are at odds and want guidance. They won't get it.

By WILL VAN SANT
Published May 1, 2007


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CLEARWATER - Clean up your own mess.

That was the message delivered Monday to a fractured Pinellas-Pasco Juvenile Justice Board by Richard Davison, deputy secretary of the state Department of Juvenile Justice.

The Juvenile Justice Board, a local advisory group to the state agency, has been in disarray for months due to a schism between a band of renegade juvenile advocates and a set of more established leaders.

As a result, the makeup of the board is in question and some members were looking to the state to end the confusion.

But Davison noted that local juvenile justice boards are there to advise his agency, not the other way around. And looking around the table, seeing both sides represented, Davison said there didn't appear to be a problem.

"The DJJ doesn't have any authority to dictate, " Davison said. "It's my understanding that there is no issue."

Tell that to critics of county Commissioner Calvin Harris, the board's chairman. They waved signs that read, "Harris says 'You shut up' " and "Calvin Harris snubs the law."

The current friction began a year and a half ago when the Pinellas Juvenile Justice Council, long run by social service providers, fell into the hands of mavericks critical of the Department of Juvenile Justice.

The council, along with one in Pasco, appoint members to the larger, regional Juvenile Justice Board. The Pinellas council booted longtime board members and appointed its own people.

But now people dispute whether that move was consistent with the statute creating the council or the group's bylaws. Also in dispute is the decision by Harris and his allies to form their own advisory group and no longer recognize the Pinellas council.

Shortly after the meeting ended Monday, Harris said that he was unsure what would happen next but that he had no strategy in mind to remove the newcomers from the board.

"I don't know, maybe they will resign, " Harris said. "Maybe we need to go to a board retreat and just talk about this one issue."

The lack of finality bothered David Plyer, chairman of the Pinellas council and the leader of the opposition to Harris.

"It's like one of those Sunday matinees where there is a cliff hanger, " Plyer said.

"And you have to come back next week to see what will happen."

The board meets quarterly, so the opportunity to hash things out as a group won't come again for another three months.

It looks as if there will be no backing down. The Rev. Bruce Wright, an activist and Plyer pick, said he'll be at the next meeting no matter what Harris does.

"I'm elected, whether he likes it or not, " Wright said. "I'm an elected board member."

Will Van Sant can be reached at vansant@sptimes.com or 445-4166.

[Last modified May 1, 2007, 00:51:35]


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