The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange has obtained an email that says the Georgia Governor’s Office for Children and Families (GOCF) Executive Director Jennifer Bennecke will resign August 15. The email to GOCF’s advisory board members, says Bennecke will not return following maternity leave. According to advisory board member Judge Steven Teske, Bennecke is resigning for personal reasons. JJIE also received a letter to GOCF from the Georgia Office of Audits and Accounts saying it will perform a “special examination” of GOCF’s “performance and expenditures, including Children’s Trust Fund revenues, that may be considered in connection with potential mergers with other organizations.” Former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue created GOCF in 2008 by joining together the Children’s Trust Fund Commission and the Children and Youth Coordinating Council into one organization.
Buried in the Governor’s budget is a plan that is stirring up conflict among children’s advocates in Georgia, pitting supporters of two child welfare agencies against each other. The plan would fold the Georgia Family Connection Partnership, a 20-year old statewide public-private collaboration, and its budget of nearly $8 Million into the Governor’s Office for Children and Families (GOCF) effective July 1, 2011. Currently the Partnership is attached to the Department of Human Services. Officials of the GOCF say the change would save the state money and simplify access to information and services. Opponents of the move counter that it would undermine the Partnership’s commitment to community-based decision-making, jeopardize its private funding, and increase the size of state government.
Governor – elect Nathan Deal has nominated Clyde Reese to run the Department of Human Services. The announcement came Friday afternoon, according to the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Clyde Reese is an attorney and currently serves as Commissioner of Community Health, which administers Medicaid, Peachcare and the State Health Benefit Plan. He was appointed to the post last April by Governor Sonny Perdue. The DCH website describes Reese as a health care regulatory and administrative law specialist. He’s also been General Counsel for the State Health Planning Agency, and an Assistant Attorney General.
The Georgia Commission on Family Violence set up a governance committee Friday in the midst of ongoing questions about where in state government the agency belongs. In its 2010 session, the state legislature attached the 37-member commission’s budget to the Administrative Office of the Courts within the judicial branch, and there is strong support for having it remain there. But there are also those—reportedly including Gov. Sonny Perdue—who would like to see it come under the Governor’s Office for Children and Families in the executive branch. The possibility of moving the agency raises questions about its future, as JJIE.org reported Thursday. At the commission’s quarterly meeting, chairwoman Peggy Walker, a Douglas County juvenile court judge, asked members to volunteer for the new governance committee which will study the benefits and drawbacks to moving the agency, and look at how other states handle similar agencies. The committee will be headed by Fulton County Superior Court Judge Shawn LaGrua and will include Pardons and Paroles board member James Donald, Assistant Attorney General Kathryn Fox, majority whip Rep. Edward Lindsey (R-Atlanta), Henry County Solicitor General Charles Spanos and Robert Thornton, criminal services director of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, which includes representatives of several other agencies and councils.
The Georgia Commission on Family Violence has bounced among state agencies for the last 18 years – from Human Resources to the Administrative Office of the Courts to Corrections and back to the Courts. Now there are new questions about its future.
In the most recent change, the General Assembly voted late in the 2010 session to move the agency’s $428,000 budget from the Department of Corrections in the executive branch to the Administrative Office of the Courts in the judicial branch—but failed to amend the law to actually move the agency because time ran out. Corrections transferred management to the Courts by agreement. Now there’s discussion about moving the Commission again, this time to the Governor’s Office for Children and Families, an agency created by outgoing Governor Sonny Perdue two years ago. Supporters say services should be combined under one umbrella.
Many people charged with carrying out juvenile justice in Georgia are concerned about how new state budget cuts will affect children, communities, and the system overall. “I just fear that there’s going to be less policing done on juvenile behavior,” says Early County Sheriff Jimmy Murkerson, of Governor Sonny Perdue’s recent order that the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) and other state agencies amend their 2011 budget proposals with plans for four, six and eight percent cuts. “The general public seems to feel that [law enforcement] should be handling every offense from sagging pants to curfew violations, but you’ve got to have the manpower to address these minor issues. With these cuts that manpower just won’t be there.”
Gwinnett County Juvenile Judge Stephen Franzen echoes a similar sentiment. “Our ability to respond to the needs of kids and the community is going to be severely damaged,” he says.
Juvenile Court Judge Timothy Pape has a disturbing prediction for Georgia. He expects to see many – and possibly more – of the state’s children getting into trouble or falling victim to abuse, but less being done about it. His daunting forecast is, in large part, inspired by recent reports that yet another massive state budget shortfall is forcing state agencies to slash already stretched budgets even further for the 2011 financial year. According to the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute at Georgia State University, as the state begins its 2011 fiscal year it is facing a potential budget shortfall of between $413 million and $613 million. This shortfall is in addition to the $2.5 billion in budget cuts already implemented since the 2009 financial year.