While I'm sympathetic to this complaint, we shouldn't understate the extent to which the new "bureaucracy" created last year stems from a legislative mandate to make kids safer and provide greater oversight to an out-of-control agency. When you add oversight, you simultaneously add warm bodies to implement the new functions.
From its headquarters in Austin, 368 administrators oversee the state's juvenile correctional agency, 47 more than early last year, when TYC had 4,000 offenders in its lockups, nearly double today's number. As the offender population has dwindled — the result of a new state law that closed the agency to offenders ages 18 to 21 and offenders sentenced on misdemeanors — the total cost of paying all those employees has risen by nearly a quarter, to $18.7 million a year.
Some lawmakers say agency bigwigs have shown a willful disregard for reining in expenses. Last month, the chair and co-chair of the joint committee that oversees the agency asked the state auditor, John Keel, to step in and investigate.
"It's an agency of high-priced employees in the central office trying to protect salaries and turf," Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, the chairman of the joint committee and one of the letter writers, said last week. ..
"Instead of spending money retaining and attracting new (juvenile correctional officers), TYC has chosen to increase central office personnel," Whitmire and Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Plano, said in their letter to the auditor.
TYC's staffing levels were set by the Texas Legislature during the budget process and new reforms implemented last year required hiring more administrators, as noted in the story by conservator Richard Nedelkoff, including in the much-ballyhooed Office of the Inspector General. Then interim executive director Dimitria Pope established more layers of bureaucracy in the agency, actions Whitmire's committee was informed about and approved of at the time. She also made the top-level hires legislators are complaining about now - particularly general counsel Steve Foster and government affairs/PR man Jim Hurley - and set their original salaries, but no one from the Lege complained about it then.
It's worth pointing out another key fact regarding overall staffing levels: 18 months ago TYC was woefully understaffed and couldn't come close to implementing its required 12:1 staffing ratio. Indeed, at many units the ratio routinely exceeded 24-1.
So during the same period the Lege added oversight and the interim E.D. added new layers of bureaucracy, staffing in the field, for the first time in many years, began to approach levels of normalcy. (The biggest staffing crisis continues to occur, last I heard, at the intake center in Mart, but other units reportedly are mostly meeting their staffing requirements thanks to guarding far fewer kids.) So to a certain extent, the Lege had been shortchanging TYC for quite a while and its increased per-unit costs are merely a function of the agency coming much closer to meeting its baseline obligations.
Finally, as for comparing TDCJ salaries with TYC's, if TYC administrators lived in Huntsville instead of Austin, maybe they could get by on lower base pay. Move TYC admin to Pyote, for example, and I'm sure their folks could get by on less. But as long as they live in Austin, unless you tell me their salaries are higher than at the Department of Insurance, for example, where Jim Hurley worked previously, that doesn't seem like a fair comparison
If folks in the Legislature now want to change course from what they told TYC to do just a year ago, that's certainly their prerogative. With adequate funding and services in place, I'd probably support Chairman Whitmire's plan to shift most of these kids downstream to be handled in counties, as California is doing. But it's not particularly helpful in this writer's opinion to blame agency management for implementing what the Lege told them to do.