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Towey makes soft landing at FSU

Ousted social services secretary Jim Towey entered the world of academia on Wednesday _ courtesy of the governor's office.

For a six-month stint as a "visiting research associate" at Florida State University, Towey will earn $44,722, plus $4,000 in travel expenses.

FSU's Division of Research offered a job to Towey on June 5 after being contacted by the governor's office _ which has veto power over the state budget, including state university funding.

Robert Johnson, vice president for research at FSU, was frank about the hiring, arranged with governor's chief of staff Tom Herndon.

"I wouldn't have thought of Jim Towey for this. I don't think about those things. But when I can pay half the cost, it means more to me," Johnson said.

The governor's office will pick up half of Towey's salary over the six-month contract. The funds will come from the governor's operating budget, said spokesman Ron Sachs.

Towey, fired from his $95,000-a-year post in a party-line vote in May by the Republican-led Senate, will continue working on social services issues.

"Your assignment will be to assess the impact on Florida of proposals in Congress to change the way money is divided among states for social programs," his letter of appointment from FSU states.

While he was secretary at the state Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services, Towey hired an employee to work in Washington. Karen Hogan started in January at a salary of $64,000. Her duties include analyzing impacts of health and social services legislation and appropriations, according to a job description.

Towey said his new job won't duplicate Hogan's role.

He said he will be developing a "blueprint" for Florida to follow in response to changes in social service programs that could have staggering implications for Florida.

He will work out of a borrowed office in a complex north of the state Capitol. He will not be a tenured faculty member.

Towey acknowledged that his new six-month job isn't his top choice, but he has a wife and two children to support. With a lean state budget this year, hundreds of state employees have been bracing for job layoffs.

Towey said he didn't have time to look for a job during his last days at HRS. He has been contacted by a law firm (Towey is an attorney), a child welfare program and nonprofit organizations that help the poor.

But Towey said he hasn't decided what he will do next. "I'll do this for six months and then I have to pray," said Towey, a deeply religious man.

On family vacation in Washington this month, he spent time with Mother Teresa, the Nobel Prize winner with whom he has previously worked. She was opening a home for pregnant women who want to put their children up for adoption. Towey attended the opening with Mother Teresa and first lady Hillary Clinton.

Mother Teresa gave him this advice, he said: "Stay close to the poor and God will take care of you."

Towey called his new post at FSU a "no-profile job" that gives him at least a temporary sense of calm after the hectic and controversial days at HRS.

"What I need are a few months to pass and I need to think," Towey said.

"I'm now officially mellow."