Scott Faces Tough Decision On Next DCF Secretary

, Daily Business Review


Rick Scott

Gov. Rick Scott faces a difficult decision in naming a permanent secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families, given the demands of the job, the lateness in his term and the scrutiny of lawmakers moving to respond to a rash of child deaths.

Scott has some breathing room after announcing last week that Interim Secretary Esther Jacobo will stay on the job through the end of the 2014 legislative session. He tapped the Miami-based attorney to lead the agency in mid-July, for 90 days, after David Wilkins resigned under fire.

Jacobo quickly proved effective at calming the stricken agency, stayed on, and now, Scott says, she'll be an "invaluable resource for legislators" during the upcoming session.

The governor also said his office will meet with children's services providers, law enforcement agencies and community leaders for their advice on appointing the next secretary.

"It's not enough to care about kids," Jacobo said. "Everybody cares about kids. … It has to be someone who understands (that) the components around social services and child welfare are complicated and hard to navigate—and (who) takes advice from people."

Longtime DCF observers predict that Scott will look within the agency for a leader because an outside candidate is unlikely to move to Tallahassee for what could be the governor's last few months in office if he is not re-elected in November.

"It's going to be difficult to get someone with national credentials," said former DCF secretary George Sheldon, now a candidate for attorney general.

"There's a huge challenge, and that's getting a quality secretary who would not have even a year to serve," said trial attorney Howard Talenfeld, president of the watchdog group Florida's Children First. "I would be hopeful that the department looks at some of the people who are there. There are some quality folks."

Sheldon and Talenfeld were among those who pointed to the possibility that Scott could appoint DCF Deputy Secretary Pete Digre or Assistant Secretary for Programs Stephen Pennypacker, saying both would be qualified for the post.

The internal candidates also would have the advantage of continuity, said Jane Soltis, a consultant with the Casey Family Programs, which works with DCF on a number of projects.

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