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Early Leadership Problems

It might have been possible to overcome the financial and structural problems that the schools faced in delivering anti-tobacco education if there had been strong and committed leadership at high levels within CDE, as Kizer had provided for DHS, but such leadership never materialized. Robert Ryan, who was the head of the Healthy Kids, Healthy California office and responsible for the anti-tobacco education efforts until he left in 1994, brought the right credentials to the job. With a background that combined training and education in both health and prevention, he had vision for the program, but his own drug and alcohol problems got the better of him and he quit coming to work.

Kathy Yeates, who worked with Ryan and his assistant Bill White (who headed CDE's tobacco program) and who was eventually named to succeed him, described the leadership problem:

Robert was already in big trouble with his own using of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. He was in big trouble. …I had told Robert that if he messed up one more time that I would have to do something about it, which I followed through and went…[to an] associate superintendent who went to the deputy and they just called him in and chewed him out. Nothing happened…so I watched Robert go downhill. …He hated confrontation of the mildest kind. And he just didn't come to work. …And it was too big of a task for the two of them to do without more competent staff. And they just didn't have additional competent staff that understood prevention. …And he didn't have the support of the agency, because he had jeopardized that. So he was taking all this flack—deserved, a lot of it deserved—but it was doing him in more than supporting him. So I think that he had the potential but he lost it. And the field was disenchanted. The CDE staff was disenchanted. And so because of that the program did suffer.[33]

At a conference in Millbrae, held in the spring of 1990, White told educators to put enough tobacco material in their drug programs so that if any parent was an executive at a local voluntary health agency, he or she would see something for the Proposition 99 dollars. Rather than encouraging schools to become a partner in the larger California Tobacco Control Program, the leadership appeared to be offering cash-strapped school districts a wink and a nod to use the money however they wanted.


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