Department of Children and Familes set for layoffs

Tallahassee, FL – The Department of Children and Families are cutting about 500 jobs to save the state about 48-million dollars. As Sascha Cordner reports, several people from across the state are weighing in on the layoffs at a time when Scott says he is creating jobs.

About two months ago, public employees descended on Governor Rick Scott's office to give him hundreds of pink slips for a job, "not well done" and asked a simple, yet complex question...

"Where are the jobs? Where are the jobs?"

But, On Thursday, Scott signed a budget that was met with cheers at The Villages, a central community in Florida, touting his favorite phrase:

"A few months ago, I came into Eustis just down the road from here and unveiled a bold budget plan towards turning economy around getting our great state back to work."

But, recently, in anticipation of Scott's "bold budget" plan, the Department of Children and Families Secretary David Wilkins announced they were laying off close to 500 state workers to cover a 48-million dollar budget cut. DCF Spokesman Joe Follick says it was supposed to be much more.

"When the legislature passed this budget, it was 48-million dollars overall in a budget reduction and that came out to about 950 positions, I should say. We've worked very hard. We've eliminated vacant positions. We've have found employment for more than 100 other DCF employees already and other positions within the department. And, when you back those out and you account for retirements and other things, then the overall number of employees that will be affected are about 480."

Three state mental institutions are expected to take the brunt of the cuts: North Florida Evaluation and Treatment Center in Gainesville with a loss of 44 employees, Northeast Florida State Hospital in Macclenny at 70, and Florida State Hospital in Chattachoochee with the most at 135. Gadsden County's Florida State Hospital is known as one of the region's biggest employers, and employs people from several surrounding counties. That includes Jackson County, which has about 750 employees working there. Jackson County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Art Kimbrough:

"If it is true that DCF has indeed ordered cuts for about 135 positions at Florida State Hospital, given the employment is roughly 25-2600 I believe, that would be about a 5-percent cut in labor."

Kimbrough says it wasn't a huge surprise to him, and it could be seen as a blessing.

"Number 1, it wasn't closed entirely, number 2, it was not privatized, and these are still remaining as state jobs. SO, the fact that they are having to make steps to make it more efficient and cuts, everybody knows there are going to be cuts in the state, I expect this is the best we could do given the environment."

Republican Senator Joe Negron of Palm City says he agrees and he is optimistic that the reductions made will not affect the daily activities at these public hospitals, and says the cuts are inevitable.

"Just as in the private sector where reductions are being made and where people are having to work harder for less, I think that principle applies to the state government as well. So, I believe that Governor Scott is on the right track in trying to downsize state government to a level that is consistent with the current economic situation."

But, some may not agree.

"Our Governor says let's get to work but it appears we are getting out of work because with all these state workers it's just a reverse, you say you're going to do something, you're doing the opposite. It's an attack on state employees. What has state employees done that is so bad that the rich people have decided they shouldn't have a job?"

Jeanette Wynn is the President of the Florida chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, better known as AFSCME. She used to work for the hospital that will be affected the most by the cuts.

"And, I was also devastated because I worked for 28 years, I was a 30-year retiree from Florida State Hospital by having the opportunity to buy back 2 years, which gave me my 30-year retirement at Florida State Hospital. So, it was very near and dear to my heart."

Wynn says she hopes everyone is looked at fairly, whether they're a minority or not, and does not have any connections to administration. She says she also believes the area DCF will most likely NOT cut is management positions. But, in the Southwest region of Florida that was not the case.

"It's ridiculous! First of all, it's two basic issues, they took an experienced district administrator and the second problem is they haven't replaced her."

Stan Appelbaum is the Circuit 20 Substance-Abuse Mental Health Consortium Chair and a Community activist in the Southwest region. He is referring to Former Director of the Southwest Region of DCF Cookie Coleman, who earned about 105-thousand dollars.

"I know my people are upset, I know the community is upset, but I think that we just need to, people need to wait and see. I feel as if I'm very successful. I feel as if I truly made a difference and I don't think I could have a better time to leave if I had to leave, than when I'm on top of the game."

Coleman says she found out the news unofficially about three weeks ago, when she decided to go meet with Mike Harrell, the regional director, but officially found out on Monday.

"I'm known for being a little bit blunt and I asked him if he [Mike Harrell] was going to lay me off, and he said, we only need one manager. And, I asked him what his preference was and he said operations manager, and then yesterday [Monday] he called me and said effective June 30th I no longer had a job."

Coleman joins the other state workers, who will officially lose their jobs at the end of June. Her next step in her journey? She says she's looking forward to taking care of her mother who is in Stage 2 of the Alzheimer's disease.

One thing Coleman and most people did agree on is about the importance of front-line workers, which includes case workers, abuse hotline employees, and child protective investigators. They were about the only people DCF Spokesman Joe Follick says would most likely be spared from the cuts.