Here's Ms. Stein's rendition from the event:
TYC STATE OF THE AGENCY TOUR: HOUSTON 7/9/2007
Elizabeth Ann Stein
The room was packed July 9 for the Houston stop of the six-city Texas Youth Commission State of the Agency tour.
More than 100 employees, volunteers and legislative stakeholders listened as the top brass of the embattled agency outlined plans to transform itself into a child-centered entity with potential as an international model.
On this tour, of course, the lead act was TYC acting Executive Director Dimitria Pope.
"The message I bring to you is that children come first," Pope said. She asked employees to "stop thinking of me, me, me" and start thinking about ways to make the lives of incarcerated children better.
Maneuvering a handheld microphone with the alacrity of a talk-show host, Pope described an agency-wide restructuring designed to break up the unit-based fiefdoms that drew so much criticism in a report issued 10 weeks ago by the agency's temporary conservator, Jay Kimbrough.
Gov. Rick Perry appointed Kimbrough, his former deputy chief of staff, as special master to revamp the agency in the wake of allegations of sex abuse and a cover-up at TYC.
One hint of Pope's determination to alter the agency's heretofore facility-centered power structure were the locations of the meeting. For the record, the Houston session was at the Children's Assessment Center. But the settings for this and the other stops in the tour were more interesting for where they were not-- none was at a TYC unit.
The State of the Agency tour made stops at the end of June in Odessa, Waco and Richardson. Additional stops were planned July 10 in Harlingen and July 11 in Austin, where the largest turnout is expected.
Pope described the assignment of all TYC facilities into one of three regions: northwest, east and south. Each region will have its own director, as well as staff capable of working with the units on a wide range of responsibilities.
A folder distributed to attendees included a map of Texas with each of the three new regions indicated by color.
"We're regionalizing the agency to give it more of a presence in the field." Pope explained. "Every division and department will have a presence in the field."
The most enthusiastically received statement of the afternoon seemed to be that TYC is soliciting employees' suggestions on how the agency might do better in every facet of its work.
"All of the policies and procedures of the organization are up for grabs, along with the contracts," Pope said. When employees articulated problems or made suggestions during the forum, she appointed them, on the spot, to join or form a committee to draft a proposal for TYC's consideration.
Tracy Levin of Administrative Support and Community Relations has been keeping track of and coordinating the activities of the growing number of committees Pope has formed as employees bring up new concerns during the meetings.
Some committees have already begun meeting and drafting proposals, with members from different areas of the state traveling to do the committee work.
"I have opened the doors and said, 'Hey, if you are out in the field and have a particular area of interest ... there's a signup sheet here for committee assignments,'" Pope said. "Don't come to me with problems. Come to me with solutions."
The long-term goal of the changes being made at TYC is to transform the agency into one that does its job so well, it will serve as a model for similar entities around the world, she said.
With a mandate from lawmakers to act swiftly, Pope has set ambitious deadlines for many of the changes. Her schedule includes visiting every TYC office and facility -- by the end of August.
Other speakers from TYC included Yolanda Hall on legislative appropriations; Stan DeGerolami, operations and residential services; David Walenta, treatment and workforce development; Christi Mallette, youth reentry initiatives; Donna Payne, health services; Eric Young, human resources; Steve Foster, legal issues, and Will Harrell, ombudsman. Legislative presence at the forum included state Rep. Corbin Van Arsdale, plus members of the staffs of Sen. John Whitmire, Rep. Debbie Riddle, and Sen. Tommy Williams. All serve on the Legislature's Joint Select Committee on the Operation and Management of the Texas Youth Commission.
Tuesday's State of the Agency stop in Harlingen will be at the Best Western Casa Villa Suites, 9 a.m. to noon. The Austin meeting Wednesday will be in the Capitol Extension Auditorium, 9 a.m. to noon.