DHR chairman says he'll quit doing business with agency

Although he confirms doing $30,000 in private business deals with the agency he oversees, state Department of Human Resources board chairman Bruce Cook says he doesn't believe he's violated any state ethics rules.

Bruce Cook's company, Choosing the Best, continued to sell abstinence-education materials to several of the DHR's teen centers even after he was appointed to the agency's board, he told CL last week. But that wasn't an ethics issue because teen center managers weren't required to buy his company's products, he says.

The state Attorney General's office maintains that, "As a general rule, Georgia's ethics laws prohibit a board member who oversees an agency from transacting business with that agency," according to spokesman Russ Willard.

Following an initial interview about his business dealings, Cook called CL back to say that, in order to avoid the appearance of impropriety, his company had adopted a new policy on Sept. 23 to no longer sell products to DHR subsidiaries. Instead, he said, the materials will be provided free-of-charge to any DHR entity that wants them.

Interestingly, CL seemed to be the only one he'd told. Asked if he'd alerted DHR officials or teen center managers to his new company policy, Cook said no: "It was an internal decision."

He went on to explain that no conflict-of-interest improprieties had taken place because the teen centers "were local entities, which set their own policies."

The centers, however, are dependent on the DHR not just for funding but for their very existence. In September, the DHR board ended a long-running controversy when it voted to reverse an earlier decision to shut down the state's remaining 30 teen centers.

At the same meeting, the board adopted a new policy which mandates that at least half of the centers' educational content adhere to strict, abstinence-only guidelines. That change could have resulted in more sales for Cook's company, which markets an abstinence-only curricula.

To read CL's past coverage of DHR chairman Bruce Cook, visit atlanta.creativeloafing.com/2004-10-28/ news_feature.html.

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