Thursday, May 17, 2007

Florida Democratic Classic

Tallahassee amasses power

Letter to the Editor, St.Petersburg Times
from Alvin W. Wolfe, Lutz.
Published October 10, 2003.

The Times' editorial, “Looks like retaliation” (Oct. 3), called our attention to a specific problem, that of the Florida Department of Children and Families trying to ward off any critical oversight from representatives of the public. These current actions, withholding records from, and screening public calls to, the Statewide Advocacy Council, are only the most recent. If public advocates complain, they will be abolished.

From its beginnings in 1998, the Jeb Bush administration has whittled away at all mechanisms by which the public and local community representatives once influenced state governmental decisionmaking. Florida had a system through which local communities could effectively monitor and guide the Department of Children and Families, the Department of Health, the Department of Juvenile Justice and so forth. County commissioners appointed members of local district health and human services boards and those boards had direct involvement in the appointment of local district administrators and also had direct lines to departmental secretaries in Tallahassee. Those boards were wiped out in the several moves toward privatization during 1998-2000.

Claiming to make government smaller, Gov. Bush made Florida's government much more centralized. Under the misleading title of "community based care," Gov. Bush turned the foster care system into a system of contracting service providers. Through those contracts, the system is totally controlled from Tallahassee. There are no longer influential mental health boards locally. The WAGES boards that once concerned themselves with the needs of the local community are gone. The local juvenile justice councils have been stripped of their influence. Everybody takes orders from Tallahassee now.

Alvin W. Wolfe, Lutz
(Dr. Wolfe, a former chair of the District 6 Health and Human Services Board and the Statewide Health and Human Services Board, is now president of a nonprofit association, the Florida Health and Human Services Board, Inc., whose primary aim is to encourage local communities to involve themselves in their own systems of care.)

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