George Sheldon, the acting secretary of the Department of Children and Families, was given full power over the agency Tuesday when Gov. Charlie Crist tapped him to replace Sheldon's longtime friend Bob Butterworth.
Sheldon, 61, was brought to the agency 20 months ago by Butterworth, and said his top concern was to train case workers to make sure that families receive more information about food stamps, and mental-health and substance-abuse counseling.
"Food stamps are up 23 percent statewide," Sheldon said. "Calls to the abuse hotline are going up 21 percent. There's a clear tie between mental health, substance abuse and economic stress... so it's a matter of integrating all these things in the department."
Sheldon said case workers should be able to handle the extra services because some case loads have decreased for foster care (decreasing from 2,900 to 2,300) while adoptions have increased to record highs.
In tapping Sheldon, Crist turned to an one-time rival to help out. Sheldon unsuccessfully ran against for Education Commissioner in 2000 against Crist who ran a tough ad rapping his then-opponent for a drunken-driving arrest. It came out just as George W. Bush was fending off Democrat attacks for his DUI bust.
Crist expressed some regret: "In life, the older you get, hopefully, the more mature you get."
"George is the kind of guy who understands the people business," Crist said. "He happens to be a Democrat. I happen to be a Republican. But that doesn't matter to us here in Florida."
Sheldon, a former Tampa state legislator, served as Butterworth's deputy attorney general beginning in 1999 and, when Butterworth resigned the office to become the dean of law school at St. Thomas University in Miami in 2003, Sheldon became the associate dean.