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Perdue pulls the plug on DHR board chairman 

In the end, the stink of controversy around Bruce Cook may have gotten a tad too fragrant for Sonny to stand.

Cook, the embattled board chairman of the state Department of Human Resources who garnered criticism for using his public post to promote his private business, was recently - and quietly - yanked from his appointed duties by Gov. Perdue. Cook held the post for a year-and-a-half.

Officially, Cook is being reassigned to head an obscure task force charged with helping to overhaul Georgia's mental health and addiction services. The move is a giant step down for a man who once helped oversee a $3.2 billion budget and guide policy for the state agency responsible for delivering health and social services to lower-income Georgians.

The stealthy timing of the governor's announcement - late afternoon on the final, frenzied Friday of the General Assembly - virtually guaranteed that Cook's reassignment would be underplayed. It also fed suspicions that Cook had become too great a political liability for an administration that typically shuns controversy.

Perhaps the final straw was that "60 Minutes" reporters in recent weeks had begun to sniff around Cook's apparent conflicts of interest, which CL first reported last year.

Appointed in September 2003, Cook attracted attention last spring when he led a charge to eliminate the DHR's 39 teen health centers, despite that most of their funding comes from federal grants. Some of the teen centers handed out condoms, and because Cook is known as an outspoken evangelical Christian who earns a living publishing abstinence-only educational materials, many DHR insiders saw the move as an attempt to impose his own far-right ideological agenda on public health policy.

Then, in October 2004, Cook appeared at a DHR-funded conference on abstinence education, where he touted his own book and promoted the programs offered by his for-profit company, Choosing the Best.

Around the same time, the DHR board decided to keep the teen centers open but mandated that at least half of their educational content adhere to strict, abstinence-only guidelines. Only after CL reported the potential windfall for Cook's business did he announce he would no longer sell materials to DHR subsidiaries.

Finally, in February, irate DeKalb parents pressured the county's school system to stop using Choosing the Best materials in its classrooms. Cook's company had been criticized in a national study for providing misleading health information, such as exaggerating failure rates for condoms.

In his new post, Cook likely will have less room to advance his own ideology. But he will be in a position to suggest changes in addiction treatment. Stay tuned.

For previous coverage on Cook, see atlanta.creativeloafing.com/2004-10-28/news_feature.html.

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