Thursday, November 23, 2017
News Roundup

JWB picks its chief operating officer to lead the child welfare agency

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The search for the next director of the Juvenile Welfare Board began with political turmoil. It ended quietly Thursday with the selection of the board's chief operating officer.

By a unanimous vote, the board chose Marcie Biddleman, a former Marine and Juvenile Welfare Board employee since 2009, to lead the organization. The decision to select someone familiar with the agency's inner workings appealed to board members, who said Biddleman would be able to start making improvements on day one. She will replace the agency's outgoing director, Gay Lancaster, who is retiring in June.

Yet the choice is an unusual one given the priorities the board set at the beginning of its search.

Like other child welfare agencies across Florida, the Juvenile Welfare Board will face a referendum in 2016 that will determine its future. That event had some board members focused on hiring a politically savvy director with experience courting the public's favor.

In February, an applicant who seemed to fit that description appeared. But Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch's decision to apply encountered enough opposition that he soon withdrew.

"We were looking for a rockstar, somebody with a big name in the community," said Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe. "But I think we've sobered up as we went along and realized it'd be better to find someone who could do the job well than someone with a name."

Biddleman, 67, has decades of experience working with and running child protection groups, both public and private. Politics is not on her resume, and that's fine by the board.

It was "her vision and her day-to-day working knowledge," that led to her selection, said board member Jim Sewell.

Biddleman grew up in St. Petersburg and joined the Marine Corps immediately after high school.

While getting a bachelor's degree at the University of South Florida, she began working with the Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services in Pinellas. That led to years of work with similar agencies in Pinellas, where she led the St. Petersburg Free Clinic for nine years, and in other parts of Florida.

She said the JWB already is working on ways to publicize its work in advance of the referendum.

"The JWB has kind of been the silent neighbor for so many years," she said. "So we are looking at some different ways to put the JWB name out there in the public eye, still without going overboard."

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