Welcome aboard, sir, y buena suerte! You've got a tough job ahead of you, and you're going to need all the luck, and help, you can get.
On the upside, it's not like you've got big shoes to fill. The Governor inexplicably declared in an AP story announcing the decision ("Former Bush aide chosen to lead TYC," Dec. 19) that:
"Impeccable leadership by conservators of TYC has helped Texas make great strides in righting a very troubled agency," said Perry. "Richard's experience and expertise in juvenile and criminal justice make him the right person to finish the job at TYC."Uh, excuse me? "Impeccable"? Do the the Governor's PR people own a dictionary? The last two conservators took a broken agency and transformed it into a crippled one. TYC has been so mismanaged since March that the New York Times editorialized Texas should "raze" the agency and "start over"! That ignominious record, I'd suggest, cannot be wiped away with a pat on the back and a press release declaring "Heckuva job, Brownie!"
On the other hand, other experts in the juvenile justice arena suggested that Nedelkoff may be, as UNLV Professor Bill Bush declared in Grits' comments, an:
Interesting choice, and extremely well qualified for the job. Someone who knows a lot about juvenile justice and probation, knows how to handle budgets, and, it appears, an experienced fundraiser who may be able to attract some much needed federal and private funds to TYC."I view this as a real game-changer," concluded Bush, "and it will be interesting to see what he does. At least Gov Perry has given us someone who can be taken seriously." Similarly, Dr. Barry Krisberg, president of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, told the Dallas News ("New conservator brings long-term outlook for Texas Youth Commission," Dec. 20) that "this is great news ... He's a tough-minded guy. He's played in a few bureaucracies."
The place he was working until today, Eckerd Youth Alternatives, is pretty highly respected nonprofit in Florida, which ran highly touted youth programs, and its founders were opponents of the get tough philosophy.
It sounds like Nedelkoff may plan to revive the "Blue Ribbon Panel" report that the last conservator round-filed immediately upon receipt. He told the Austin Statesman ("Governor appoints juvenile justice veteran as youth agency conservator," Dec. 20) he intends:
to moderate and participate in a high-stakes political debate over whether the state's most serious youth offenders and delinquents can ever be properly dealt with in the current system of far-flung prisons.He also sounds much less antagonistic toward the idea of rehabilitation than the current TYC crew. According to Austin's KXAN-TV:
The system, which has had the support of the Legislature for more than a decade before scandal broke in March, has been criticized as untenable by some criminal justice experts.
"It's an appropriate debate that needs to be held to discuss a variety of options," Nedelkoff said Wednesday after Gov. Rick Perry announced that he was appointing Nedelkoff to the position, effective immediately. "There is the ideal world of having as many of these kids in communities as close as possible to where their families live, and there is the reality of the current facilities."
With 28 years of criminal justice experience, Nedelkoff said his first step is to organize the agency in a way to help the kids, not just detain them.A former director of the Governor's Criminal Justice Division under both Bush and Perry, Nedelkoff ran the Bureau of Justice Assistance under President Bush for a while, giving him a perhaps unique background to assist soliciting federal funds. Indeed, at the end of the day if everything turns out as well as it possibly could, that experience may be the most important asset Mr. Needelkoff brings to the table.
"Making sure that a kid who leaves a TYC program or facility is better than when they walked in," Nedelkoff said.
After leaving the Bush Administration, he was for a while President of the Riga Solutions Group, a management consulting firm for criminal justice and human services operations at government agencies - though I've seen the name around occasionally, I don't know anything about that firm.
In addition, though I couldn't figure out a time frame for this slot in his resume', according to a press release announcing Nedelkoff's hiring at Eckerd:
InSince May, Nedelkoff has been "chief operating officer for Eckerd Youth Alternatives in Clearwater, Fla., a private not-for-profit organization that serves at-risk youths through residential and community-based programs in 10 states." Like Ed Owens before him, Nedelkoff considers "conservator" a part-time job; he will stay on at Florida-based Eckerd as COO and draw a paycheck while he is TYC conservator.
Florida, he was the Executive Director of the Florida Network of Youth and Family Services, which is a statewide coalition of over 30 non-profit and governmental organizations that provide services to truant, runaway and troubled children in 100 sites across . He was also appointed by the Florida Secretary of Juvenile Justice to manage the largest juvenile justice service district in Florida . Florida
You have to wonder if this mess can actually be fixed on a part-time basis? Perhaps the last two, short-timers who held the conservator's slot whispered into Nedelkoff's ear, "Don't quit your day job." Certainly nobody's lasted too long in that gig so far.
One potential conflict of interest not reported in initial press accounts: Eckerd is one of the private contractors competing to take over TYC's role housing young offenders (10-13 year olds), and Nedelkoff personally was involved this summer in soliciting the Texas contract, which would have been the company's first in the state.
For that reason, I really question whether it's appropriate for Mr. Nedelkoff to stay on at Eckerd while he does this job unless the nonprofit intends to withdraw its bid to house Texas youth. If Eckerd is competing for contracts, at a minimum it creates an overwhelming appearance of conflict.
If I had to offer one piece of advice to the new conservator, it would be that the major lesson of the last two conservators is how severely they undervalued their employees. Jay Kimbrough came in and fired dozens of people who had nothing to do with the agency's scandals, then under Ed Owens TDCJ cronies filled high-paying management jobs and newly created bureaucratic positions, while front-line employees worked double shifts and suffered retaliation for complaining about unsafe work conditions. I've never seen nor heard of a government agency that's so alienated its staff, who are now leaving the agency in droves: In the last fiscal year, TYC lost half again as many old employees as it has hired new ones.
The best way to change the anti-employee culture in TYC management would be to appoint a competent, permanent commissioner as soon as possible next year. Acting executive director Dimitria Pope has been the enthusiastic instrument of misguided policies under Kimbrough and Owens, and within the agency has almost become like a brand name identified with the Governor's two failed conservator appointments. Find her a soft place to land (perhaps a job in another state with Eckerd?), then get somebody in that slot who's independent and competent with experience in juvenile justice, and you'll go a long way toward restoring confidence in the agency among its employees. From a management perspective, that must be your first concern.
RELATED RECENT GRITS POSTS:
- Every time a Christmas bell rings, an Angel gets its wings: Current TYC admin approach a "dead loser," say experts
- Governor: Please come back from the campaign trail and fix TYC!
- Looking for leadership: Meurer turns down TYC slot running agency mired in crisis
- When will the Governor replace TYC management?