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Despite “No Involvement” pledge, Butterworth got the kind of private deal he backed as DCF boss

By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org 

Bob Butterworth

When Bob Butterworth filed a bid last winter on a $44.8 million-a-year Department of Children and Families private management contract he signed a “Statement of No Involvement.”

By signing the statement, the former Florida Attorney General certified that neither he nor anyone else at the non-profit Broward Behavioral Health Coalition was involved in developing the DCF program for the project his company was bidding on.

Yet as DCF Secretary in 2008, Butterworth oversaw the state’s push to shift the job of administering local substance abuse and mental health services to private “managing entities” like the company he now chairs.

Butterworth described his involvement at Broward Behavioral’s inaugural board meeting last month.

The approved minutes of that Oct. 1 gathering say, “Chair Butterworth provided (a) history of managing entities created under his leadership in 2008 as DCF secretary with the goal of making local decisions and to advise the state how to best serve the community.”

The minutes also note: “At this time, the Department of Children and Families (DCF) has six (6) statewide ME’s and is now looking to Broward County to contract.”

Butterworth signed a four-year contract with DCF effective Nov. 6 to oversee government-funded programs in Broward. The deal was delayed for months by a competitor’s unsuccessful bid protest that alleged DCF illegally steered the contract to Butterworth’s group.

DCF will pay Broward Behavioral up to $162.6 million through June 30, 2016, the contract says.

‘TO INSPIRE PUBLIC CONFIDENCE’

DCF operating procedures require potential vendors to sign a “Statement of No Involvement” to promote fair competition “and to inspire public confidence that contracts are awarded equitably and economically.”

Fort Lauderdale attorney Joseph M. Goldstein, author of the Florida State Procurement Handbook, said the state relies on certifications made by those it does business with.

“There would be contractual and potentially criminal ramifications if you falsely certified in (bid documents), even if it’s not sworn,” he said.

In an interview last week, Butterworth downplayed his involvement in the creation of managing entities.

He said that while he supported their use as a way to increase local control, and recommended Gov. Charlie Crist sign the bill authorizing their implementation, managing entities were not a major emphasis of his administration and he was not actively involved in advocating for them.

“I don’t recall the issue coming up. It was a small portion of a large bill. I thought it was a good idea,” he said. “I asked my legislative director later on after I got involved, ‘What role did we play?’ He said we basically went along with the bill that the (service) provider organizations were pushing.”

BUTTERWORTH MADE MONEY

Broward Behavioral’s for profit partner in the deal, Concordia Behavioral Health, paid Butterworth and his Fort Lauderdale law firm, Fowler White Boggs, to represent them in the matter.

“Yes, I received compensation, but my total representation was at a drastically reduced rate and I didn’t bill all my hours because it was something I believed in,” he said.

However, Butterworth declined to say how much he and Fowler White were paid by Concordia.

BrowardBulldog.org reported last month that Concordia’s owners include a silent partner, Coral Gables healthcare entrepreneur Miguel B. Fernandez, who is a major contributor to Gov. Rick Scott.

Gov. Rick Scott

A Hollywood resident, Butterworth is a longtime Democrat and Florida political insider whose five decades of public service includes stints as Broward sheriff and judge.

Gov.-Elect Crist named Butterworth to head DCF in December 2006 amid a barrage of negative publicity focused on its failures to safeguard children under its protection. Butterworth served until August 2008.

PUSH TO REFORM

Butterworth said that as secretary his “major emphasis” was on restoring the agency’s reputation and reforming its foster care system.

State records, however, show that DCF under Butterworth was also focused on the development of managing entities as a “new business model” for the delivery of behavioral health services. In fact, it was a “strategic initiative” of the agency in its Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Plan for 2007-2010.

In 2007, “the department began to strengthen community systems of care by encouraging the development of managing entities,” says a 2009 DCF report on their statewide implementation following the passage of enabling legislation the previous year.

Former DCF staff analyst John N. Bryant said he helped write the bill that ultimately passed the Legislature and was signed into law by Gov. Crist. Bryant said several people at DCF, including then Assistant Secretary Bill Janes “worked actively for its passage.”

Janes said he recommended the bill to Butterworth, but noted that Florida’s provider organizations, not DCF, initiated and developed it. “It was the department’s role to provide comment on the bill,” he said.

Janes, who reported directly to Butterworth, said managing entities were then a “new concept” for DCF and Butterworth was not particularly familiar with them. “But I’m not going to head in a direction he doesn’t approve. He’s my boss. If he doesn’t agree with it, it’s not going to move forward,” Janes said.

QUIRK IN LAW

DCF Secretary David Wilkins announced in October 2011 that non-profits could submit bids for the job of Broward “managing entity.” Broward Behavioral was incorporated the same month.

Broward Behavioral and the Partnership for Community Health, a group of established local health care providers, were the only bidders. The Partnership ranked higher and state evaluators also deemed Broward Behavioral’s proposal “nonresponsive” because it did not include paperwork required to demonstrate financial stability.

Because there was only a single responsive reply, a quirk in state bid rules allowed DCF to ditch the sealed bid process in January and negotiate with anyone.

Two months later, Wilkins awarded the contract to Broward Behavioral.

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