Reprinted with the permission of the Atlanta Journal and the Atlanta Constitution.

List of candidates for child advocate narrowed to five
Ron Martz - Staff
Thursday, August 3, 2000

Former state Sen. Mary Margaret Oliver of Decatur, a longtime voice for children in the General Assembly, is among five candidates to be Georgia's first child advocate, state officials said Wednesday.

The list consists of four women and one man. Three of the candidates are lawyers, while the other two are veteran employees of state agencies that deal with children.

The child advocate will investigate complaints made on behalf of children under the care of the Division of Family and Children Services and Child Protective Services and try to find resolutions. The advocate, who will serve a three-year term and be paid between $65,000 and $75,000 a year, could also ask the governor to take legal action through the attorney general's office.

The other candidates are Forrest Burson, director of the state Department of Human Resources' Office of Adoptions; Gia Compton, an attorney with the state Department of Community Health; DeAlvah Simms, director of Crescent House in Macon, which deals with investigation and prevention of child abuse; and Gwendolyn Skinner, deputy commissioner for community corrections with the state Department of Juvenile Justice.

"We believe that the governor will have some very good choices," said Buddy Darden, chairman of the 12-member nominating committee.

Gov. Roy Barnes will personally interview each candidate after the GBI conducts background checks, said Joselyn Butler, a spokeswoman for the governor.

The interviews will not be scheduled until after Barnes returns from the Democratic National Convention, which starts the week of Aug. 13, but Barnes has indicated he would make the final selection within the next 30 days, said Darden, a former Democratic congressman from Cobb County.

The five were chosen from a list of 88 applicants, 31 of whom were interviewed by the nominating committee.

Dr. Randell Alexander, director of the Center for Child Abuse at Morehouse School of Medicine and a panel member, said the committee felt that "they all have the talent to do the job."

The law establishing the position does not require a lawyer but says the job should go to someone who is familiar with the legal system, law enforcement and child welfare issues.

"This job will be one of the most difficult in state government," Darden said. "It will require a total commitment of time and energy and resources and political skills and legal skills. It will be an extremely difficult job getting started on a very small budget." The initial budget is $300,000.

Alexander, a nationally known expert on child abuse, said that whoever is chosen will have to spend time learning about a broad spectrum of issues related to child abuse and child well-being.

"The biggest mistake any of us could make stepping into a job like that is to assume walking in we knew everything," Alexander said.

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