Ask Jeb Bush, Florida's Republican governor
Published Saturday, April 21, 2001

Ex-aide blasts welfare director
Letters to Bush denounce Kearney


Nearly two years after leaving his job as chief of the Department of Children and Families' Broward outpost, Robert Pappas is blasting his former boss, calling Kathleen Kearney's administration ``destructive and potentially a political time bomb.''

Pappas, 62, wrote in a letter to Gov. Jeb Bush that he was ``compelled to express concern for the state of child welfare'' efforts in Florida.

``The hysterical atmosphere in DCF, though not created, has been fostered and nourished by Secretary Kearney,'' Pappas wrote in one of two letters.

Pappas retired from the U.S. Marine Corps as a colonel and worked as an administrator with the state Comptroller's Office before joining Children and Families.

``In more than 40 years of public service, I have never served in a more dysfunctional organization, in particular in an atmosphere that employs Nazi methods, with informers, back-door processes, and exclusionary tactics,'' he wrote. ``I would have hoped that Secretary Kearney would clean up that situation; unfortunately, it appears to be her chosen mode of doing business.''

The governor's office, which did not reply to either of the letters, did not return a call from The Herald for comment.

Children and Families administrators say they remain committed to their mission, ``to ensure the safety and well-being of our state's most vulnerable.''

``Mr. Robert Pappas is a former acting administrator who is entitled to his opinion,'' Deputy Secretary Bob Cohen wrote in a prepared statement. ``The reality is the district is improving in spite of the challenges we face daily in child welfare.

``Rest assured, the strong leadership selected to go into District 10 has the ability provide the guidance and accountability needed to continue the momentum in the district,'' Cohen said.

Pappas said Friday that he joined the department in Broward as a favor to Cohen, who also is a retired Marine. The two had worked together in the office of Comptroller Bob Milligan. Pappas bristles at the suggestion he wrote the letters because Kearney declined to name him permanent Broward administrator.

``I really didn't want the job to begin with,'' Pappas said. ``I went down there to help a brother Marine.''

In his letters, the second of which was dated Thursday, Pappas focused his sights on Kearney's administration -- but he also took aim at the department's policy toward abused and neglected children, arguing that the department is too quick to remove such children from their homes.

The question of whether some foster children could be better served by remaining with their parents -- with some services, such as parenting classes, anger management training or even financial support -- has plagued the agency in recent years.

Richard Wexler, who heads the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, has released two scathing reports on the state's child protection efforts in which he argues that a ``panic'' has gripped the state, leading to thousands of unwarranted removals of children.

In his letter, Pappas endorsed many of Wexler's claims -- a situation department officials, who scorned Wexler's reports, undoubtedly found galling.

``Since the beginning of Secretary Kearney's tenure, the status of child welfare has not improved, and, is regressing,'' Pappas wrote.

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