Probation reforms temporarily tabled
June 22, 2010
A series of measures aimed at swiftly improving the management and accountability of L.A. County’s scandal-plagued Probation Department was put on hold Tuesday when a short-handed Board of Supervisors could not muster the three votes needed for passage.
The matter was delayed a week after Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas—one of only three members present—left the board one vote shy by abstaining. Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and Gloria Molina, both of whom have been outspoken in their efforts to reform the department, had voted to move the measures forward.
Ridley-Thomas declined Molina’s offer to explain why he abstained at a time when the department is under increasing pressure to quickly restore public confidence. “I don’t know why anybody would object to these…motions,” said Molina, the board chairman. In fact, Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, who is out of town, had encouraged his board colleagues in an e-mail to press ahead, despite his absence. He called the motions “vital.”
In recent weeks, the 6,000-person department has been rocked by disclosures, including reports that employees used county credit cards to buy electronics goods, that dozens of employees accused of misconduct may escape discipline because the investigations ran too long and that the department cannot fully track $79 million allocated by the Board of Supervisors to hire personnel.
The three motions at issue on Tuesday were intended to provide the department’s newly named chief, Donald Blevins, with ways to increase the effectiveness of his management team and provide tougher oversight of the department’s internal investigations and discipline.
Two of the motions were co-authored by Yaroslavsky. One, written with Antonovich, would expand the responsibilities of the Office of Independent Review to include oversight of the Probation Department. For nearly a decade, the OIR’s work has been largely confined to monitoring the operations of the Sheriff’s Department.
The second motion—this one co-authored with Molina—asks the CEO, County Counsel, personnel officials and others to explore within 30 days how Blevins could, under Civil Service rules, begin hiring managers from outside the Probation Department—a break with current practices.
The third motion, authored by Supervisors Antonovich and Don Knabe, attempts, among other things, to insure that that no employees in the future escape discipline because of unnecessarily long internal investigations and that probation officials responsible for such lapses in the past be held accountable.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Yaroslavsky emphasized that “time is of the essence”—a sentiment that brought agreement from Blevins, the former probation chief of Alameda County. He said he understands the board’s “clear message” that it’s his job “to clean up the department.”