Assuming this to be his last stand in public office, Bob Butterworth may well have saved the toughest job for last. To hear him rank his 19 months at the helm of the Department of Children and Families as "his greatest challenge" in more than three decades of public service is sobering enough. Remember, he was state attorney general for 16 years.
As DCF secretary, Butterworth was supposed to fix broken homes, heal troubled minds and save children from the increasingly disturbing lives many of them are forced to lead. The mission itself has defied all earnest attempts toward successful completion. His predecessor found herself threatened with jail because DCF was ignoring the growing number of mentally ill people who were sitting in jails.
Butterworth can be credited with reducing the number of children in foster care and resolving that lawsuit over treatment for mentally ill inmates, but no tenure at DCF is unblemished. He found himself last year answering for the inexplicable loss of a 2-year-old Pinellas County foster child, Courtney Clark, who ultimately turned up in Wisconsin.
What Butterworth brought to DCF that should serve as a model for those who follow is his willingness to expose the truth. He didn't wince and hide behind claims of privacy laws. He didn't mince words or defend the indefensible. Confronted with the disturbing facts of the Courtney Clark case, Butterworth demanded a review of the child-protection services at the Sarasota Family YMCA and ended its contract in Pinellas. He spoke with remarkable candor about the impact of budget cuts on social services.
Gov. Charlie Crist said Tuesday that Butterworth "sets the gold standard for what it means to be a public servant." Part of that standard is keeping the doors of government open to the people who pay its bills.