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    Bush names new chief as Front Porch effort sags

    By LEONORA LaPETER

    © St. Petersburg Times, published October 14, 2000


    The man who presided over the troubled first year of Gov. Jeb Bush's urban renewal initiative, Front Porch Florida, has been replaced.

    Patrick Hadley, 47, said Friday he resigned as head of the Office of Urban Opportunity because he wants to pursue other career options.

    But a South Florida lawmaker who is involved in Front Porch said Hadley was eased out because of the program's lack of progress and wealth of controversy.

    "I know they'd received some bad press and there were some concerns about the amount of time it was taking to get on the way, and there were concerns about the things that had been done," said the lawmaker, state Rep. Chris Smith, a Democrat from Fort Lauderdale who supported Bush in his 1998 election. "You could kind of see a snowball effect. When you're dealing with bureaucracy and politics, change has to be made, and change had to be made with him being removed."

    In a letter to representatives of the state's six Front Porch communities Friday, Bush made no mention of the controversy while praising Hadley for his efforts.

    "Patrick's commitment to Front Porch Florida and his hard work planted seeds that are now growing in our first six communities," Bush wrote. "I am so grateful to him for his efforts."

    Hadley will be replaced by Alison Hewitt, a 29-year-old special assistant in the Governor's Office of External Affairs who has worked for Bush since March 1999. Hewitt has worked for the governor at the community level in southwest Florida, including the Front Porch initiative. She could not be reached for comment.

    Front Porch Florida is Bush's program to improve troubled neighborhoods by combining government resources with residents' knowledge of community problems. The program has worked better in some communities than others. In St. Petersburg, it has been beset by questionable spending, poor communication and community infighting.

    In June, the Department of Juvenile Justice hastily handed out grants to 67 community groups in an attempt to beat a state budget deadline. It failed to conduct background checks and, in one case, awarded a $30,000 grant to the fledgling for-profit recording company of a man with a 12-year history of drug and weapons convictions. The money was supposed to go to established programs that steer kids away from drugs and violence.

    Since that time, the Governor's Revitalization Council of South St. Petersburg has been struggling to find harmony on its bylaws, its budget and the role of its community liaison, Faye Jackson.

    Hadley, who had no government experience when he took the job, tried to play the peacemaker. Although he was passionate and a great motivational speaker, he may have been deficient in providing the structure and guidelines that St. Petersburg and other groups across the state needed to find consensus, several Front Porch officials around the state said.

    "I think a lot of things have improved in the program, but I don't think initially it was well-thought out and well-structured," said Stephanie Williams-Baldwin, who resigned this week as chairwoman of the Opa-Locka Revitalization Council because of a lack of financial controls, among other reasons.

    State officials said the new program was expected to have growing pains, and it will learn from its failures.

    Hadley pointed to his success in helping patch up St. Petersburg's revitalization council. Some members who resigned have come back to the table and the group has been working more cohesively with the community liaison.

    But some have said Hadley's compassion, which motivated people and generated community support, may have been his downfall.

    "Sometimes it didn't allow him to be a bureaucrat and it stopped him from saying, "Hell no, this is the way it's going to go,' " said Smith, the lawmaker. "He cared too much for the people running it and he didn't pull back the reins sometimes."

    Hadley, who made $73,000 a year, said he will be unemployed Oct. 20. He said he plans to start a state office of MAD DADS (Men Against Destruction, Defending Against Drugs and Social Disorder), a grass-roots community development organization he built in Ocala that helped him gain recognition around the state.

    He said he's also talking to the Florida Housing Finance Corp. about a job, but it's not solid yet.

    "It could turn into a contract with them," he said Friday. "That would be ideal. I've got to feed my family. I've got four girls, a wife and a dog that eats chicken. I've got to do something."

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