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Governor gives much-criticized bureaucrat a special job

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to include corrected information. In 1999, Gov. Jeb Bush appointed Carl Littlefield to deputy secretary of the Department of Elder Affairs. A story Sunday gave a different position.

Nearly a month ago, Gov. Rick Scott gave an unadvertised $78,000 job to Carl Littlefield, a career bureaucrat who quit his latest job 17 days after he was appointed rather than face questions about his handling of a controversial group home.

The revelation of Littlefield's new job has become a nuisance for Scott, who has demanded the elimination of 1,849 full-time jobs at the same state agency.

The governor maintains he is only trying to bridge gaping holes such as the estimated $174 million deficit at the Agency for Persons with Disabilities.

"That agency has not lived within its budget, as far as I can tell," Scott said. "I don't know when it ever did. And so everybody just kicked the can and never really held them accountable and looked at how they could spend that money better."

That description could easily apply to Littlefield, 62. More than a decade ago, Littlefield had an opportunity to balance the historically out-of-whack budget for the developmentally disabled and didn't.

• • •

Littlefield, who did not return a home phone message, describes himself on his resume as a seasoned public servant.

"A penchant for political, social and spiritual philosophy converge with a love for the outdoors, a fascination with history and a heightened appreciation for music and decorative art," he wrote.

In 1992, Littlefield, who has a high school diploma, won the newly created District 61 seat in the state House of Representatives.

He was known as a socially conservative legislator, backing bills that sought to reform welfare, require parental notification for minors seeking abortions, and perform background checks of nursing home personnel. He sponsored a law that allowed consumers to get a 30-day, money-back guarantee on hearing aids.

With term limits looming, he set his eyes on his dream job — head of the state Department of Elder Affairs.

"I probably don't have the credentials academically, in geriatrics and other fields, but I would be a good advocate," he told the Times in 1998.

Gov. Jeb Bush gave him the job of deputy secretary of Elder Affairs. But after a brief stint, he was reappointed to the Department of Children and Families in 1999 and put in charge of developmental disabilities statewide.

Jim Freyvogel, a regional director under Littlefield in Citrus, Hernando and surrounding counties back then, was tapped to tutor the new political appointee on the complexities of Medicaid funding.

"We could tell there was real problems there because it was over their head for the most part, and it would be over anyone's head," he said. "These people had no experience in developmental disabilities. They had no budget experience."

Freyvogel and his staff had developed a budgeting method that capped the amount of money the developmentally disabled could receive based on medical needs and other criteria, making them, their guardians and support coordinators responsible for how to spend it. Freyvogel handed Littlefield a thick binder complete with software and urged Littlefield to adopt the model statewide.

"I remember telling him explicitly, 'If you implement this, you will succeed, and if you don't implement this, the budget will go out of control, and you will fail,' " Freyvogel recalled.

Littlefield never did.

The state's developmental disabilities budget continued its cycle of surpluses during economic good times and crippling deficits in bad.

This year, a program called "iBudgets" will be implemented based on the same idea Freyvogel had pitched.

• • •

In 2002, Littlefield resigned to take a lesser position with a nearly $25,000-a-year pay cut as regional director for developmental services for Hillsborough, Pasco, Pinellas, Manatee, DeSoto and Sarasota counties.

State officials said he moved to be closer to a sick relative. The decision also came about the same time the Pasco County property appraiser ruled that Littlefield violated state homestead tax exemption rules and owed more than $7,000 in back taxes and penalties.

He had improperly claimed an exemption on his Dade City home while renting a home in Tallahassee, the address on his driver's license and where he registered his cars. Pasco County's Value Adjustment Board cleared him of the charge months later.

For almost a decade, Littlefield oversaw hundreds of group homes and businesses that provide the developmentally disabled with services.

Richard Lilliston, chief executive of Hills­borough Achievement and Resource Centers, said Littlefield helped his program cut through red tape.

"I've known Carl since he was a legislator, and he was always supportive of the disabled and did the best job he possibly could within the confines of funding and legislation," Lilliston said.

When PARC, a St. Petersburg organization that helps more than 800 developmentally disabled daily, merged with financially foundering Manasota ARC, Littlefield met with the groups' leaders, who wanted to fill some empty homes to make money. Littlefield recommended that they recruit hard-to-place clients from a South Florida institution that was shutting down.

"Under his leadership, we did get all the homes filled," said Sue Buchholz, president and CEO of PARC.

Freyvogel, now CEO of the MacDonald Training Center in Tampa, said he found Carl Littlefield as unresponsive a regional administrator as he had been a state director.

"I just gave up," said Freyvogel, who began dealing directly with officials in Tallahassee.

• • •

Unresponsive is also how Rose Rouse found Littlefield when she complained about the Human Development Center, a Hillsborough County group home provider that specialized in housing developmentally disabled men accused of sex crimes.

A judge had sent Rouse's developmentally disabled and incompetent son, Kevin Rouse, to the center in 2003 because Kevin had been accused of molesting children.

After Kevin arrived at a Seffner group home, Rose Rouse learned of a policy that allowed the men there to have sex with each other during a practice they called "quiet time."

Rose Rouse sent Littlefield a letter on July 17, 2008, telling him that the group home's staff urged Kevin to develop a relationship with another resident. She told Littlefield that she wanted her son moved and that she did not consent to Kevin having sex with a roommate.

Littlefield didn't respond. In 2008, Rose Rouse took her concerns to Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, who called for an investigation that stopped "quiet time."

Stories in the Times reveal that the group home matched up sexual partners and at least one encounter occurred that the staff classified as rape.

At least one other person — Eileen Taylor, a St. Petersburg nurse who worked as a medical case manager under Littlefield — had raised concerns about "quiet time." But Littlefield fired her in November 2008. The Florida Commission on Human Relations later determined that she was a true "whistle-blower" who had been retaliated against.

In March 2009, an internal management review found employees in Littlefield's offices complaining about favoritism in hiring and treatment, confusing reorganizations, a medical case management program in disarray and a licensing program lacking staff and technology.

State officials in Tallahassee sent Geri Williams to Tampa and installed her as "quality improvement administrator," giving her the same salary and stature as Littlefield.

Despite that unflattering review, Littlefield became Gov. Rick Scott's surprise choice on Feb. 4 to head up state developmental disabilities services. It was essentially the same role Littlefield held in 1999.

On Feb. 8, senators of the Committee on Children, Families and Elder Affairs lambasted the Agency for Persons with Disabilities for not adequately addressing issues lingering from the controversial Hillsborough group home and pointed fingers toward Littlefield, who didn't appear at the hearing.

The committee, which Storms chairs, tried to question him again on Feb. 22. But a day before the hearing, Littlefield resigned as Scott's nominee. Storms had warned Scott's office of a volatile confirmation.

Within a week, Littlefield e-mailed the Governor's Office.

"Just want to check for any progress on a new assignment," he wrote on Feb. 28. "My wife is a little concerned about a lapse in health insurance coverage."

On March 7, he wrote again, "As you know, tomorrow begins week three and I am more than ready to get back to work."

A week later, Scott's office installed Littlefield as director of community outreach at the DCF. The newly created job is part of the DCF's Family Safety program, which includes providing independent living services for many teens and young adults who are also clients of the Agency for Persons with Disabilities.

Storms said Florida already does a poor job of helping foster children transition into adulthood. "It's hard for me to see how this move is an improvement," she said.

Scott denied that any favors were done, though Littlefield's job was not advertised and no other candidates were interviewed.

"We're not creating jobs for people," he said. "What we're doing is doing everything we can to figure out how we spend the money as wisely as possible."

Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or [email protected]

Governor gives much-criticized bureaucrat a special job 04/10/11 [Last modified: Monday, April 11, 2011 6:34pm]
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