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  1. Pinellas

Pinellas Juvenile Welfare Board selects new CEO

The Juvenile Welfare Board of Pinellas County has selected a new CEO, Beth Houghton, who is currently the head of the St. Petersburg Free Clinic.

"Children have always been sort of the core of my passion in helping other people," she told the Tampa Bay Times on Monday.

Houghton said she was not looking for a new job, but when a member from the Welfare Board reached out to her about the opening, she felt drawn to the agency's mission and substantial resources. She will sign a two-year contract to lead the Welfare Board, which has a $93.4 million annual budget. The agency issues funds to programs for kids across the county.

Houghton, who was selected following a nationwide search, is taking over for Marcie Biddleman, who led the Welfare Board for 10 years.

"She can think outside the box, but she does it in a quiet and helpful way," said Pinellas-Pasco Public Defender Bob Dillinger, a Juvenile Welfare Board member who served on the search committee. Dillinger said he has worked with Houghton for years in her role as head of the Free Clinic. She emerged from a wide pool of candidates from as far away as Seattle, he said, in part because of her local ties.

"While our pool of candidates was strong, Ms. Houghton rose to the top because of her legal and fiscal expertise, high regard in the community, vast knowledge of Pinellas County, and reputation for getting things done," said Jim Sewell, the Welfare Board's immediate past chair and a member of the search committee, in a statement.

Houghton has overseen the Free Clinic, which helps people in need with food and shelter, for eight years. Her last day is Aug. 2. She is expected to start at the Welfare Board in mid September.

She is a member of the Florida Bar, first admitted in 1980, and was previously the chief financial officer and general counsel of All Children's Hospital, according to the Welfare Board's announcement of her hiring. She is married to Scott Wagman, a former St. Petersburg mayoral candidate and prominent local businessman.

Houghton, 64, said she will first try to get to know the northern parts of Pinellas County better in her new role, since she has worked primarily in St. Petersburg. She also plans to delve further into the Welfare Board's recent initiatives on youth mental health, meet her employees and explore other existing programs at the agency.

"It's wise to be quiet and listen more at first and find out what the opportunities are before you go off and set direction," she said.

Contact Zachary T. Sampson at or (727) 893-8804. Follow @ZackSampson.