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The Right Guy

If President Bush was searching for a  superbly qualified candidate to run OJJDP, he needed to look no further than his own gubernatorial staff in Texas. Serving in the Office of the Governor as executive director of the Criminal Justice Division since 1998 is Richard Nedelkoff. He’s responsible for some $140 million in state and federal funds for criminal justice, juvenile justice and victims’ services throughout the nation’s second most populous state. Nedelkoff proudly describes himself as “a practitioner for 21 years.” He worked in various criminal and juvenile justice jobs in Ohio, Virginia and Kentucky before moving to Florida. There he worked as a regional director for a 14-county area of the Florida Department of Justice from 1993-1996. He then served as executive director of the Florida Network of Youth and Families Services, a group representing runaway and homeless youth and other direct service nonprofit agencies in Tallahassee.

Now Nedelkoff has been tapped by his former boss to be director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance, a  $1.7 billion criminal justice grantmaking agency that, like its peer, OJJDP, is part of the Office of Justice Programs (OJP). But thanks to years of bickering during the Clinton administration, most real discretionary power at BJA (but not at OJJDP) rests with OJP. Heading that office will be Deborah Daniels, an Indiana U.S. Attorney and head of the Weed and Seed program in Bush.

Say many in the youth field: right guy, wrong job, preferring to see Nedelkoff, not Flores, administering OJJDP. Bill Bently, now the Senior Vice President at the Points of Light Foundation and a preceding executive director to Nedelkoff at the Florida Networks, says Nedelkoff  “did a very good job” in Florida and is a youth service professional who understands the importance of “promoting prevention, not just back-end programs.”

Mark Fontaine, executive director of the 42-member Florida Juvenile Justice Association, worked closely with Nedelkoff. Welcoming Nedelkoff’s move to Washington, Fontaine says he’s  “not afraid to think out of the box.”

Some of the programs Nedelkoff managed in Texas will soon go national. Gov. Bush’s Right Choices for Youth emphasized: parent-family connectedness; mentoring; citizenship/character education; teen abstinence from sex, drug and alcohol; and after-school programs. For example, the president has proposed $25 million in the new character education spending through the Department of Education. In 1999, Nedelkoff’s agency made a $1 million two-year grant to the Marina Del Rey, Calif.-based Josephson Institute of Ethics to train educators and youth workers to help youth “heighten their abilities to perceive the ethical dimension of choices, and to teach them to formulate positive ethical responses.” Right post or wrong, Nedelkoff, unlike Flores, is a slam-dunk certainty for Senate confirmation. Contact (512) 463-1789 or  www.governor.state.tx.us/CJD.

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