Welfare Watch -  August 8, 2011 - Family Commission Director Resigns

From Tom Crawford, The Georgia Report - Family Commission Director Resigns, Office may be restructured.

The head of the Governor’s Office of Children and Families (GOCF) has resigned and the agency is now the subject of a state audit, which could result in a major restructuring of the office.

Jen Bennecke, who had served as GOCF’s executive director since the agency was created by then-governor Sonny Perdue in 2008, has stepped down from the position and been replaced by Katie Jo Ballard.

Bennecke resigned several weeks after state Rep. Terry England (R-Auburn), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, sent a letter to state Auditor Russell Hinton asking for an audit of GOCF with an eye towards possibly folding the office into another state agency.

“To that end, a formal scrutiny of the performance and expenditures (of GOCF), including Children’s Trust Fund revenues, for consideration of any potential, future merger is requested,” England said in the letter to Hinton.  Hinton’s office confirmed that the audit is now underway.

“Let’s look at it and get an impartial view from the state auditor,” England said of the requested audit.  “We need to make sure the dollars are being spent wisely.”

Perdue created GOCF in 2008 by merging the Children’s Trust Fund Commission with the Children and Youth Coordinating Council (CYCC), and appointed Bennecke as the executive director.

She was retained when Gov. Nathan Deal succeeded Perdue and the governor’s office proposed that Family Connections, a statewide public-private effort to provide community services for families, be merged into GOCF.

Lawmakers resisted that proposal from the governor, however, and raised a series of questions about the management of GOCF.  Legislators said they were not happy with the answers they were getting from Bennecke.

“She did not endear herself to legislators,” England said diplomatically.

After the reviews of GOCF are completed, the agency may find itself folded into Family Connections, rather than vice versa.

“It’s time to look at the functions of GOCF and decide whether or not it serves a good purpose,” said Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur).  “It may be an agency that isn’t fulfilling a mission.”

“The governor’s office will perform an analysis of the current structure of GOCF,” said Stephanie Mayfield, a Deal spokesperson.  “However, the governor feels confident that GOCF is functioning the way it should be.”

Mayfield said the new executive director, Katie Jo Ballard, “will be working with the First Lady of Georgia (Sandra Deal) to implement Mrs. Deal’s ideas into GOCF. The first lady has strong interests that reflect the mission of GOCF and her work with Georgia Children’s Cabinet and this will be a very important part of her platform.”

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