But you know what? That's not much of a public process. Bureaucrats will take input on rules, if offered, but nobody is getting stakeholders in the room to discuss matters to judge by the answers yesterday.
TYC formerly had a board whose meetings provided an automatic forum for discussion before rules were adopted. But now that the agency operates with a single Executive Director (read: the Decider), the Texas Register notice is apparently all the access the public gets.
Earlier this spring I noticed significant changes in TYC rules authorizing the recent exodus of hundreds of youth from TYC. The rule authorized TYC to waive drug treatment and other programming requirements, and reduced the amount of time a child must be discipline free before release from 90 to 30 days. The changes were published in the Texas Register but despite all the hype this spring, the agency received ZERO comments.
That doesn't mean nobody had opinions, though. When I posted about it on Grits, readers had more than 200 comments.
Do you read the Texas Register every week? Does anybody besides administrative lawyers and people looking for state contracts? Most Texans don't even know what it is. But after what Ms. Pope said I'm going to make it a regular stop. It's published every Friday. (See the righthand column of this page for current and past issues.)
In fact, I went and looked at the last few Texas Registers to see what additional rulemaking they'd already put through this "public" process. Two items popped up that were already approved, but I'll bet most employees at TYC, much less the press and the public, didn't know about them:
For starters, did anybody know TYC has already issued and closed an RFP to use contract care for kids aged 10-13? I sure didn't see that reported. But the Register revealed the following RFP with deadline of June 4:
That's a pretty big deal, don't you think, to get no more public notice than a Texas Register item? The contracts haven't been let as of this morning, and the TYC employee in charge of the RFP said he needed to ask the attorneys before he could tell me who and how many applicants gave proposals. I requested that information and a copy of the RFP, so I'll let you know more when I get it.
RFP#2007-31 To Provide for a Residential Program for Younger Offenders.
The Texas Youth Commission (TYC) is seeking proposals for a safe residential setting for male or female younger juvenile offenders who are between the ages of 10 through 13. The program should reflect as nearly as possible an environment that is developmentally appropriate to this age group. The program should be conducive to promoting positive behavioral changes in young juveniles. The program can be 48 beds or smaller located within the State of Texas.
Eligible applicants include corporations, private non-profit agencies, private for-profit agencies, or individuals. The TYC encourages historically underutilized businesses (HUBs) to respond to this request for proposal. Proposals must be received no later than 5:00 p.m. Central Daylight Time on June 4, 2007.
Proposals will be evaluated and selected based on the description of services, applicant's qualifications and past experience, reasonableness and competitiveness of cost and resources, and applicant's demonstrated ability to commence services on or after July 1, 2007 and before October 31, 2007.
More than one contract may be awarded. ...
The closing date for receipt of proposals is 5:00 p.m. Central Daylight Time on June 4, 2007.
Another new rule adopted on an "emergency" basis certainly is a positive one, but again I doubt it's the case that nobody really cares about it, as the lack of comments mentioned in the Register would suggest. The rule re-opens records about abuse and complaints at TYC facilities to their previous status. While he was conservator, Jay Kimbrough decided to close the records media outlets like the Texas Observer and the Dallas Morning News had used to break the story of sex allegations at the West Texas state school. This rule formally reverses that decision, which was changed in a new state law. See the new rule on such records here.Though some things I heard yesterday encouraged me, this question of an opaque decisionmaking process inevitably will damage the good work they're trying to do - when agencies exclude stakeholders in rulemaking, the result is usually a screwed up decision.
At a minimum I'd like to see TYC publish all proposed rule changes on its own website and give email notice to employees and stakeholders, as well as in the Register. On big stuff like moving young kids to contract care, a press release would be nice. The Texas Register CANNOT be the main communication vehicle between the agency, its employees and the public about major changes at TYC.