“Don’t schtupp your co-workers, especially if you’re supervising them” has been a management mantra since the Reagan Administration. But that didn’t matter to Jamie Self before he “left” his $103,000 job as executive director of the state’s Family and Community Services Office in January “for personal and family reasons.”
Self was hand-picked for the high-profile job by David Wilkins, secretary of the Department of Children and Families, in March 2011. His portfolio included 375 employees and oversight of the child abuse hotline, a priority of Wilkins in the wake of South Florida’s infamous Barahona “toxic truck” case.
Self also went to work hitting on Christie Ferris, whom he hired at a salary of $94,000 to run the Office of Child Welfare. Her duties included bullying the Statewide Child Abuse Death Review Committee out of saying what it really thought about DCF’s efforts to cook the books on child deaths.
Self and Ferris gave new meaning to the term “direct report,” engaging in a sexual relationship he claims was consensual and she claims was coerced.
The truth has vanished in a pile of hush money provided, as usual, by taxpayers.
Ferris’ husband found out and blew the whistle to DCF officials, who allowed Self a career-saving resignation. Ferris, by contrast, was fired. She claimed under oath—and it has the ring of truth—that she was told to resign and dummy-up or be "blacklisted" from future employment.
Ferris lawyered-up instead. Three months later—a nanosecond in government litigation—Wilkins approved a $150,000 payment to Ferris in exchange for an agreement neither to sue the agency nor to speak to the media about what happened.
So much for transparency.
Wilkins is not some guy who just fell off the turnip truck. He spent three decades in high level positions at Accenture, a “global management, consulting, technology and business operations company.” Last month Gov. Rick Scott conferred upon him the pretentious title of “Florida’s Chief Operating Officer for Government Operations.” In addition to his DCF duties, Wilkins now has jurisdiction over the $51 billion the state spends annually on contracts and agreements for goods and services.
That’s a lot of power for an executive who doesn’t know that a cover-up is always a bad idea.
Dispatched to fall on his sword for Wilkins, DCF General Counsel Drew Parker told reporters he recommended the pre-lawsuit payoff. Parker explained the hush money this way to Palm Beach Post Capitol reporter Dara Kam:
"These cases are not black and white cases….they are based on competing stories that are nothing more than primarily he-said, she-said testimony. As a department, realizing that is the case, we assessed what we could potentially pay in defense legal fees, our potential exposure, the liability, the unpredictability of how a judge and jury may rule and determined that to settle the case was both expedient and cost-effective."
That would be more believable if DCF did not employ an army of lawyers to litigate to the World Court at The Hague, or at least the local courthouse, before paying legitimate claims of children who have been brutalized in state care.
Writing six-figure checks to people with “he-said, she-said” claims is a gilt-edged invitation to an endless stream of “he-said, she-said” claims. It is also a neon-lit warning about the character and competence of Child Protector and Contracts Czar Wilkins.
Florence Snyder is a Tallahassee-based corporate lawyer who has spent most of her career in and around newspapers. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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