What brought this on? Just before Christmas, Fitzgerald fired off a memo announcing the entire staff must re-apply for their jobs. It read:
"Please be advised that beginning Jan. 8, 2007, retention interviews will be scheduled with all employees, including administrators (At-Will Employees) ... . These interviews will be conducted by an interview committee chaired by me and may be videotaped. Every employee who would like to be considered for continued employment with this agency must fill out an application with our H.R. office and submit it to H.R. by 5 p.m. on January 5th."So 430 people were told at Christmastime that their jobs were in jeopardy in the new year! No wonder columnist Roddy Stinson gave Chief Fitzgerald the "Ebeneezer Scrooge Award" in response. Jaime Castillo reported that Fitzgerald "sent out the memo two days after he backed out of a meeting with employees who submitted a petition demanding he sit down with them and a union organizer over "serious health and safety issues," and that many of the judges who are his supervisors weren't notified.
The big safety issue concerning officers appears to be Fitzgerald's decision last year to disarm Bexar P.O.s.. Reported the Express-News:
The workers ... say they fear for their safety without their sidearms.
"We've always carried weapons ... So, for him to come in and take it away ... Once you go out there with guns, and then you don't go back out there with guns again, it's a bit of a difference," probation officer Cheri Simonelli said.
I'd have to side with the P.O.s on that. Think about it: Any law-abiding Texan can get a concealed carry permit and tote a gun, but probation officers can't have them doing field work? It's one thing if P.O.s spend all their time in the office, and certainly many do, but under initiatives for stronger probation, they'll be doing more direct field supervision and carrying a gun in those instances, should they choose to, doesn't seem unreasonable.
It's hard to tell from the media coverage why Fitzgerald is doing this. My P.O. source says the reason is pure union busting:
we are trying to form a union under SEIU and 134 employees sent the chief a petition asking for a meeting to discuss health, safety and economic factors. He said he would meet, then canceled, then said he would never meet with us! Then all had to reapply for their job! Its retaliation!Fitzgerald said opposing unionization wasn't his motive, but if there's another credible reason for doing this, I can't think of it, and he hasn't revealed it during any of the media coverage. Like County Court at Law Judge Tim Johnson I wonder, "You've been working with these people for three years. Why on earth do you suddenly need to re-interview everybody?"
Why indeed? Fitzgerald may soon learn that a probation director suffers from an odd and tenuous political position. Johnson and 20 other Bexar judges collectively are Fitzgerald's bosses on his governing board. All of them have close working relationships with P.O.s in their court, but not necessarily Fitzgerald. So frequently probation chiefs, like police chiefs, find that their officers have more influence with their bosses than they do.
I don't know what Fitzgerald thinks he's doing, but it looks to me like he's overplayed his hand.
UPDATE: More from the Sunday Express-News.