All of this sounds pretty positive. The last conservator was anything but "hands on," and the agency floundered under his absent leadership. The departures of Humphrey and Royal cleared some deadwood from the field, and I'm pleased at the declaration that he plans to revisit TYC's "Spray First" policy.
"I have clearly articulated my desire to be a very active conservator," Nedelkoff said in an interview with the American-Statesman. "I am a person who knows operations and the juvenile justice system, and (Pope and I) are going to be working together.
"I'm about building a team, a team that works together with common goals and works to develop a plan to bring the agency out of conservatorship within a certain period," he said. "In the next 30 to 60 days, I plan on developing a plan ... that will be needed to do that."
On Thursday, Nedelkoff began putting his mark on the agency's leadership team, forcing the resignation of Billy Humphrey, a top Pope lieutenant who was criticized for supporting the expanded use of pepper spray and solitary confinement to control unruly youths.
In another change, legislative leaders said Alfonzo Royal, Perry's liaison to the Youth Commission who was accused of inaction during early stages of the scandal, has been reassigned.
Pope, who has been criticized in recent months for the sometimes rocky implementation of changes mandated by the Legislature, was out of town Friday and could not be reached for comment.
Nedelkoff said he is reviewing Pope's decision in August to expand the use of pepper spray, which was reversed a month later after a lawsuit was filed by two advocacy groups. Nedelkoff did not say whether he plans to alter the policy.
State auditors and legislative leaders have been critical of some lockups for their isolated locations and conditions and have suggested that several should be considered for closure so programs could be closer to urban areas, where most youth offenders call home.
Youth Commission staff members are conducting a review of which lockups should be closed or repurposed — among the biggest political issues the agency faces — and Nedelkoff said he wants a detailed study of all alternatives before any decisions are made.
"It's like a jigsaw puzzle," he said. "We have to decide how much reconfiguring we should do before we can determine youth placement, how locations should be utilized and which ones should be closed."
Most of all, it's great to hear that somebody is actually putting together a written implementation plan on how to move the agency out of conservatorship. I've frequently been under the impression over the last nine months that the agency's leaders were flying by the seat of their pants.
The other big news in Ward's story, though, is Nedelkoff's declaration that he intends to reconfigure TYC and close or re-purpose some facilities. Already two TYC units have been transferred to TDCJ (although it remains to be seen how it's possible for TDCJ to staff them), and the agency removed youth from a third private unit because of abusive conditions.
Over the holidays, I heard a credible, specific, but unconfirmed rumor that Ms. Pope planned to shutter the Sheffield Unit in Iraan, from which the majority of youth have already been removed, within the first three months of 2008, possibly transferring it to TDCJ as well. Now it sounds like more units' fate than that, even, may be in play.
I put in a request this week to interview the new conservator, so maybe sometime soon we can get more details straight from the horse's mouth.