BY CAROL MARBIN MILLER
The last several months have not been kind to the Department of Children & Families’ Broward County outpost.
In April, a 7-year-old boy, Gabriel Myers, hanged himself in the shower stall of a Margate foster home, causing a firestorm of bad press. This summer, two other Broward children died after calls to the state’s abuse hot line went unheeded.
Then, earlier this month, the agency was blasted when Anthony Caravella, who was freed by a judge after a DNA analysis cleared him of a rape and murder that sent him to prison for 26 years, spent an extra night in jail when DCF failed to evaluate him promptly.
The response from the agency’s new district administrator: Fire the messenger.
On Tuesday afternoon, with no warning, the spokeswoman for DCF in Broward, Leslie Mann, was fired and escorted from the building.
“You could have knocked me over with a feather,” Mann said late Tuesday. “I did not see this coming.”
“I’m someone who loved my job. I loved every minute I worked for the people of this community, serving clients and making Broward a better place. I feel I was lucky to have the opportunity to serve.”
DCF’s top administrator in Palm Beach and Broward counties, Perry Borman, at first declined to specify why Mann was terminated. Later, he said Mann was not fired for cause, but was let go so that both he and Broward’s new district administrator, Nancy L. Merolla, could develop a new leadership team with which they were comfortable.
“We are aligning our regional structure so that it is more like what our counterparts in the rest of the state are doing,” Borman said. “What Nancy was trying to do, with my support, is to get the appropriate leadership team in place for the next chapter of DCF in Broward County.”
“We’re really thankful for the work and experience Leslie Mann provided to DCF in Broward County,” Borman added.
For the last eight years, Mann was DCF’s public face in Broward.
She provided public statements on behalf of DCF during some of the more tumultuous periods in the agency’s history. She was the United Way’s coordinator both for DCF and Broward County as a whole. She served on the Child Abuse Coordinating Committee, the Drowning Prevention Committee and was chairwoman of the Prevent Child Abuse Month Winds of Change Committee.
Jack Moss, who was Mann’s boss her entire tenure and retired last summer, said Mann “cared deeply about the mission of the department and our clients. She had outstanding skills and was relied upon by her counterparts around the state, as well as those at state headquarters.”
“It doesn’t make sense to get rid of people who are well respected in the community,” Moss added. “She gave eight years of very loyal service to the agency. This is not the way to treat people. This is a people organization, and if the administrators acted without a heart in dealing with her, you have to wonder how the clients are going to be treated.”