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State Journal: California cabinet clash; Siberia treatment

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A political storm may be brewing in California over the role of Gov. Pete Wilson's proposed child-development and education cabinet post.

The legislature's Democratic leadership is drafting a bill that would create a new Department of Children's Services, with authority over child-welfare programs ranging from juvenile justice to nutrition, but not education.

Maureen DiMarco, the Governor's secretary of child development and education, has blasted the notion, calling the proposal presented by Speaker of the House Willie Lewis Brown Jr. a poor substitute.

"His proposal leaves education out of the new state office for children, ignoring the most important role that the state plays in their lives,'' she said. "It just doesn't make sense that no one sits at the cabinet table weighing in on this issue along with prisons, roads, housing, and resources.''

Mr. Brown argues, however, that the original plans for the office remain too vague.

Some observers see the debate as an attempt by top lawmakers to maintain control over state education programs in the elected superintendent of public instruction's office.

While Superintendent Bill Honig has endorsed the Governor's plan, some see legislators guarding power for his successor.

Most observers expect that favorites for the job would come from the legislature.

When she was elected South Carolina's state education chief in 1990, Barbara Nielsen pledged to clean house in the education department.

The Republican's housekeeping has earned her the ire, though, of several former long-time department employees who were closely associated with her Democratic predecessor, Charlie Williams.

Last month, two high-ranking employees who had retired last July sued the department for a total of $5 million.

Lewis Cromer, who represents the former officials, said they were given "the Siberia treatment'' by Ms. Nielsen after she began reorganizing the department.

Although the men continued to receive their full salaries, Mr. Cromer said, they were not allowed to apply for newly created positions and were not given any meaningful assignments.

Mr. Cromer also represented another high-ranking official from the Williams regime who last month settled his suit for $162,000.

Jerry Adams, a spokesman for the department, denied the allegations, adding, "Barbara Nielsen did not make decisions based on politics, neither then or now.''--L.H. & E.F.

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