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DJJ Interim Secretary Should Be Next Secretary

December 8, 2014 - 6:00pm

The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice is a relatively young state agency, having been carved out of the old Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services back in 1997.

Throughout its time it was ruled over by men starting with the first secretary, Calvin Ross from Miami.

Four years ago Gov. Rick Scott reached down to Miami again and plucked a woman who would become the first female to oversee DJJ -- and it was a fabulous selection.

Wansley Walters, who was working for the Miami-Dade County Department of Juvenile Justice and thus already had a long-term working relationship with DJJ, was the perfect choice.

She oversaw the largest local agency handling juveniles and she had helped to pioneer the Juvenile Civil Citation program there to divert first-time, nonviolent juveniles, which was proving to be a remarkable diversion concept.

As the first woman to run DJJ, Wansley instituted many changes over her four years of stewardship.

One of those was to bring a bright young woman named Christy Daly over from the Florida Juvenile Justice Foundation to become her first chief of staff.

Christy interestingly is also well-steeped in working with juveniles. I first met her back in the '90s when she worked with Stacey Gromatski and they were running the local shelter for runaway teens in Tallahassee.

Christy served with distinction as the COS and she worked to implement the prevention strategy that Wansley and stakeholders laid out, which has turned DJJ from simply a residential and deep-end agency to one that truly has a continuum of services from prevention/diversion to residential.

After about three years, Wansley promoted Christy to deputy secretary, where she again flourished. Whats so interesting is that both of these women worked as providers to the agency, rather than as law enforcement, which is where the agency began.

Wansley, with Christy at her side, worked to quell the concerns of the voluminous providers at DJJ, which was no small feat. While DCF providers were somewhat satisfied with the direction of DCF, until these two women took over, DJJ providers were in constant battles with the DJJ hierarchy.

Im not suggesting in any way that they were easier or more lenient with the providers than their male predecessors because they were not, and you just have to ask Cathy Craig-Myers, the executive director of the Florida Juvenile Justice Association, and shell be glad to share the experiences of some providers with these women leaders.

Christy was appointed the interim secretary of DJJ when Secretary Walters had to leave this past summer because of the drop program.

While I wont pretend to tell the governor whom he should select as the permanent DJJ secretary, I can assure him that if he were to appoint Christy as the next secretary, the continuity of leadership from his first term to the second would be smooth and successful.

But more importantly, he has in Christy someone who knows what to do and how to do it. This agency has transformed itself and much of it is a credit to Wansley and Christy working with providers and interested parties for two years to make sure that the rewrite of Chapter 985, the statute that oversees the department, was done correctly.

They held hearings all around the state. They listened, they took copious notes and then they came back and worked with key legislative leaders like Rep. Ray Pilon and Sen. Rob Bradley to make sure that this overhaul of 985 was going to be the fix that DJJ needed.

As a result, DJJ is an agency that is focusing on the front-end of the system. By implementing Juvenile Justice Civil Citations statewide (only a smattering of counties arent in this system), they are ensuring that juveniles' first encounter with the JJ system is not one that inevitably means going into a residential program with other very troubled kids.

And this is key, because in the early years of the agency, the chances of a kid going deeper into the system were significant and while it helped some kids, for many it was like killing a fly with a sledgehammer.

Floridas DJJ is one of the shining stars in the country. Mind you, that doesnt mean everything has been perfect over the last four years, because it hasnt. However, whenever an agency is working with human beings, there are going to be tragedies -- its just the nature of the beast

Its how agency leadership addresses those mistakes and deficiencies that signal whether the right leader is leading

In DJJs case, Christy Daly has earned her stripes. She has learned to help lead a diverse agency and the governor would be well-served to make her interim appointment permanent and she would, I believe, cruise through Senate confirmation.

Barney Bishop III, one of the most familiar faces within the state business community, is CEO of Barney Bishop Consulting LLC in Tallahassee.

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