Governor Taps Democrat to lead Juvenile Justice

Feb 7, 2008

Above:  State Representative Frank Peterman will be named as the next secretary of the Department of Juvenile Justice on Friday, February 8, 2008

 

 

Crist taps Democrat to lead Juvenile Justice

BY MARY ELLEN KLAS
The Miami Herald

Gov. Charlie Crist on Friday will again give the reins of a troubled state agency to a Democrat, naming St. Petersburg Rep. Frank Peterman as the next secretary of the Department of Juvenile Justice.

Peterman, 45, is the ranking Democratic member on the House Committee on Juvenile Justice, a Baptist minister, and has served as director of Development for Juvenile Services Programs of St. Petersburg, a not-for-profit agency that contracts with DJJ.

He replaces Walt McNeil, former Tallahassee chief of police who is also a Democrat. Crist appointed McNeil juvenile justice secretary a year ago but last month made him secretary at the Department of Corrections.

Peterman, like McNeil, is black and has been tapped to head up an agency rocked by internal strife and controversy. Crist also appointed former Attorney General Bob Butterworth, a Democrat, to head the Department of Children & Families.

Children’s advocates say DJJ, which was pummeled by legislators after the boot camp death of Martin Lee Anderson in Panama City, must shift from a ”lock ’em up” mentality to a focus on prevention.

That was also the conclusion of a 57-page report by the Juvenile Justice Blueprint Committee, headed by Florida Atlantic University President and former Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan.

The report, released this week, said that Florida locks up 90,000 teens a year, far exceeding the national average, and must move quickly to stop routing troubled teens to the juvenile justice system and into treatment programs and residential homes. There, research says, they are more likely to learn to stay out of trouble and the cost to the state would be a fraction of the cost of detention.

”The vision we have for the state is to try to make sure we continue the push for prevention programs but balance that with public safety,” Peterman said, in an interview with The Miami Herald Thursday night. “We’ve got to stop our children from being locked into the system once they’re in, and we’ve got find a way to keep our kids out of the system from the start.”

But Peterman faces immediate challenges in the short term. The governor’s budget recommends an $18.1 million cut to the agency budget; agency turnover has prompted the recent departure of several high-level staffers; and rumors are rampant that legislators are considering consolidating the agency with the Department of Corrections to help close the state’s $300 million budget gap this year and a $2 billion revenue deficit next year.

”My joke is, these are jobs that no decent Republican would take anyway,” said Rep. J.C. Planas, a Miami Republican, who served with Peterman on the House Juvenile Justice Committee.

But, he added, Peterman “knows the issues and children are not Republicans or Democrats.”

Roy Miller, president of the Children’s Campaign, a nonprofit advocacy organization, said that the provider network and support community is encouraged at the prospect of Peterman’s appointment because he is “thoughtful and has experience.”

But, if he fails to quickly embrace the reforms outlined in the Blueprint report, maintain the department’s independence, and fight to properly fund the agency, he will find it hard to keep their support.

He urged Peterman to ”get immediate assurances” from the governor and legislative leaders “that there’s absolutely no plan to merge DJJ with DOC.”

Those assurances are needed he said, because “people are wondering if it is going to remain a child-focused agency or revert back to a corrections model that failed under Jeb Bush.”

Peterman also ”must immediately ask for more money,” Miller said. “If he’s going to manage a wounded agency his tenure will not be as effective as it otherwise would have been.”

Peterman, who is a founder and pastor at the Rock of Jesus Missionary Baptist Church in St. Petersburg, was first elected to the legislature in 2000 and has kept a relatively low profile.

He frequently took up righteous causes, such as protecting farmworkers from harmful pesticides, and one year gave up his seat on the powerful appropriations committee because it interfered with his pastor duties.

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported that Peterman started a consulting firm in 2006 in which he lobbied Manatee County officials on behalf of a client, Frank Maggio, who wanted to build a controversial residential and retail development in the city of Sarasota.

The governor will make the announcement Friday at the Carter G. Woodson African American History Museum in St. Petersburg.

Miami Herald staff writer Carol Marbin Miller contributed to this report.