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Did sex case drive out agency chief?

The new director of the state Agency for Persons with Disabilities abruptly resigned late Monday, amid questions about his oversight of a controversial Seffner group home that allowed sex between residents.

Carl Littlefield, a former lawmaker who was appointed to the post Feb. 4, sent a brief letter to Gov. Rick Scott that gave no explanation for stepping down. He said he was "greatly honored and humbled" to be chosen to work in Scott's administration.

"However, after careful consideration, I request to withdraw as a nominee to serve as the director of the Agency for Persons with Disabilities and will step down from this position effective immediately,'' Littlefield wrote in the letter.

News of the resignation came after the Florida Tribune reported that Littlefield could face difficulty in getting confirmed by the Senate because of the controversy about a Hillsborough County group home called the Human Development Center.

Before getting appointed as APD director, Littlefield was an agency administrator in the Tampa Bay area. The St. Petersburg Times has reported extensively about a practice known as "quiet time," when male residents of the home were allowed to have sex in their rooms. The practice allegedly led to abuse of some residents who couldn't protect themselves.

Sen. Ronda Storms, a Valrico Republican who is chairwoman of the Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee, has been particularly critical of the group home's operations and APD's oversight of it. Storms likely would have been an influential player in determining whether Littlefield would get confirmed.

Littlefield was scheduled to appear before Storms' committee this morning.

Agency heads can start serving before they get confirmed. It is rare --- though not unprecedented --- for senators to reject gubernatorial appointments.

The Agency for Persons With Disabilities serves people who have developmental disabilities such as autism and cerebral palsy. Scott named Littlefield to replace Jim DeBeaugrine, a former legislative staff member who appeared to enjoy the respect of many lawmakers.

APD has faced years of financial troubles, regularly running deficits and leading lawmakers to try to limit services. Scott's 2011-12 budget proposal, for example, called for cutting rates up to 8.4 percent for many APD contractors and called for privatizing state facilities run by the agency.

When asked this morning, Scott provided little information about Littlefield's resignation. But he said he has ordered an inspector general's audit of APD's finances because of the deficits.

"We have budgets, and we're going to have agencies that live within their budgets,'' Scott said.

--Capital Bureau Chief Jim Saunders can be reached at 850-228-0963 or by e-mail at jim.saunders@healthnewsflorida.org.