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

Constitution: Appoint ex-senator as child advocate
Monday, August 7, 2000

Of the five finalists for the new post of Georgia child advocate, former DeKalb legislator Mary Margaret Oliver stands out as the best candidate. As a state senator, she wrote many of the state laws on child abuse and neglect and deals with the issues now as a private attorney.

Moreover, Oliver is smart, gutsy and willing to buck the status quo --- all qualities the governor would presumably want in an advocate. But it's not clear that Roy Barnes is seeking such an independent voice since he structured the office to assure himself final control.

Barnes would be wiser to delegate the reformation of the state's troubled child welfare system to the advocate. As Barnes says, the state Division of Family and Children Services "is a mess."

The governor is already steeped in messes. He's in the midst of reforming the mediocre schools, cleaning up the polluted air and managing the unchecked growth. That doesn't leave Barnes much time to scale tall buildings in a single bound or overhaul DFACS.

And it will take something akin to superhuman strength to shore up a child welfare system hamstrung by high turnover, low pay and no centralized computer registry. It will require a forceful personality who will not buy the same tired excuses, who will demand accountability and who will be an effective lobbyist for the funding needed to hire qualified people and keep them.

That someone is Oliver. She can both take the heat and put it on a child welfare system that places the protection of adults over the well being of children.

The other four candidates recommended to Barnes by a search committee all have their individual strengths. However, none can match Oliver's expertise in understanding the Legislature and pushing through legislation. She may be hard-nosed and blunt, but so is Barnes and it clearly hasn't hampered his effectiveness.

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