Saturday, March 17, 2007

Ed Owens TYC's New 'Czar'

The headline of yesterday's Brownsville Herald story by Elizabeth Pierson, perhaps the most astute reporter covering problems at the Texas Youth Commission over the last few years, says it all: "TYC board resigns, leaving power to one man."

Who is that one man? Ed Owens, who until two weeks ago was the #2 man in Texas' adult prison system. The Houston Chronicle called him TYC's new "Czar," while the Dallas Morning News offered this hagiography soon after he was appointed. According to Pierson, Governor Perry wants to keep Owens the lone man in charge:
Gov. Rick Perry wants the one-person leader structure to be permanent, said spokesman Ted Royer. He is working with lawmakers to have an amendment added to a bill that would make the agency accountable to one governor appointee who works full time, rather than the current part-time board, also appointed by the governor, Royer said.
Shifting oversight from a larger board to one person appointed by the governor - any person, any governor - is a bad idea. Boards aren't useless if the Governor doesn't appoint useless board members. If you don't believe me, go read Patricia Kilday Hart describe how much good Harry Whittington did on the TDCJ board. As Isela Guterrez said to Pierson, "having fewer boardmembers reduces democracy.”

But it may be that putting all that power in this particular fellow is a bad idea. (I wouldn't be the first to say it.) At least I see the outline of storm clouds on the horizon as a result of his appontment, and I don't think he should be granted autocratic power. Here's the case why:

1. So far Owens has shown a tendency to cover up rather than honestly discuss TYC's problems with the Legislature.

Owens told the joint committee convened to oversee TYC that children in the agency's charge were safe, then a week later the US Department of Justice comes out with a report that declares, at the facility they investigated, in fact they are not. What does that say about Mr. Owens' credibility when he makes such assertions? Given all the other evidence, plus the fact that he'd barely been appointed when he said it, to me his statements were non-credible on their face.

2. More investigation needs to be done to discover whether Owens covered up sex abuse allegations at his last job.

Last year TDCJ settled a civil suit that alleged, in part, that Mr. Owens knew about allegations of sexual abuse by a high-level employee and did not do anything about it. Owens will have to be an amazing leader to overcome this recent baggage, given what TYC is going through. (I know a couple of reporters are on the trail and predict the story will be covered in the mainstream media in the coming week.) That history makes him the wrong leader at this historical moment to instill trust among employees, the Legislature and the public that additional scandals won't be covered up again. It's unwise, IMO, for the Governor to put all his eggs in Mr. Owens basket, and I hope he'll reconsider when he gets back from the Middle East. I didn't understand the appointment in the first place. Let's face it, it's not like TDCJ was particularly well managed while he was there!

3. An imperious management style won't encourage communication to let management identify and prevent problems.

Owens' first communication to TYC employees as a manager was to send out a letter putting 4,700 people on notice that they may be fired if they don't shape up. His second communique' was to tell them all not to talk to the press! Between these two ill-considered epistles, this was incredibly stupid and bodes poorly for Owens' near-term employee relations. Most TYC employees are trying hard. They're underpaid and work in unsafe, understaffed environments where nobody knows if your workmate will show up the next day. In that kind of alienated setting, you don't send everybody a letter extolling your own virtues and criticizing thousands of people you've never met.

In addition, Owens' new "rehabilitation plan" apparently hasn't done much to improve Owens' employee relations. Wrote one anonymous Grits' commenter in response:
Ed starts off the rehabilitation plan with a lie...he says he listened attentively to the concerns of staff. I work in central office and I haven't even seen Ed yet, much less had a chance to discuss my concerns with him. (And I want to know how he believes he's listened to field staff when he later notes he's been to ONE of the troubled facilities.)

Frankly, pretty much everything I've learned about what the agency has been doing (or having done to it) in the last few weeks has come from the newspaper and the blogs. Executive management isn't talking to staff that I can see...not about our concerns and not about what the agency is doing. We're mushrooms...keep us in the dark and feed us manure.
If you read through Grits' recent comments, you'll find many such digruntled missives from average TYC employees who feel unappreciated, caught in the middle, proud of what they do, but disgusted by everything they're learning (or seeing confirmed) about their agency. The most important job of an executive director is to lead those employees and turn them into a cohesive team. By all appearances, no one is trying to do that, yet.

I don't mean Owens needs to go hand out cookies to case workers and JCOs, but visiting one facility and calling it "feedback" won't cut it either. Some sort of communication forum and vehicle for feedback is needed for employees to express their grievances. Hell, if I were Ed Owens I'd launch my own blog to explain to employees and the public what TYC is doing to transform itself and why, and to give employees a vehicle to anonymously ask the same types of questions being raised lately in Grits' comments.

And speaking of Grits comments, see the ones here, here, here, here and here for TYC employees weighing in on these topics.


Anonymous said...

Looks like Mr. Owens and Gov. Perry have already painted themselves into a corner - as predicted. Rather than do the wrong thing to give the "appearance" of doing something, they should both get pver to the Legislature to obtain the funds necessary to run TYC so that the kids are safe! Clearly one person can't do it all, there certainly needs to be a board of directors.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps we should compile a list of questions for Ed (or his publicity machine...sorry, department) like we did for Rissie?

Anonymous said...

I may need some help with this, if Mr. Owens wants staff from TYC to submit to polygraphs why cant he take the lead and do the same in regards to the "Sammy" Buentello issue? I believe this would go along way to show that a true leader is willing to place himself/herself in the same position they are asking their employees to go through. I really do not believe anyone at TYC has a problem or issue with a polygraph but when you have the issues surrounding your leader that are currently surrounding him it would just clear the air. Where are all these politicians at asking for this to take place, or would it distract them from the mission their currently partaking?

Anonymous said...

I am firmly of the belief that these gestapo tactics aren't coming from Ed. It's the All Powerful Edict Issuing Grand Special Master of Everyone Colonel Kimbrough issuing these orders and applying the strong-arm tactics across the state.

Ed may not be the most diplomatic in his communications, and I really can't speak for how/who he was at TDCJ, but looking from the inside out, dude is in an extremely tough position and I can't say I envy the task he was assigned.

He had, what, 10 days to develop a 'plan' to fix the agency?? And during that 10 days, he also had to...appear downtown regularly; be available at a moments notice to Kimbrough, Perry, the lege; deal with the immediate issues and fallout of the offices and facilities being "seized" by armed investigators and auditors; address the findings of said investigators as they arose; be available for commentary and interviews as ordered/demanded...and at the same time develop a comprehensive 'plan' to solve all of TYC's ills.

Are you kidding me? Look, I'm not going to defend him because frankly I've exchanged maybe 20 words with him in the past 2 weeks...but neither am I going to dump on him completely b/c he's been abrubt in some of his communication.

As for the plan itself...there is a LOT in there that has been said for a very long time by many, many staff across the state. Overall, I haven't really spoken with anyone that disagrees with much of it very much.

You know, it strikes me that some of us feel like we are just in a surreal situation...on the one hand, Perry's inattentiveness and the standard cronyism is partially responsible for getting us into this mess (along w/ neglect from the lege), and yet...he's sort of forced into the position of being our 'hero' b/c he's the only one in a position to keep us out of conservatorship and keep the lege from disbanding us all together!

It's kind of like...hating your mom b/c she never gives you your allowance and makes you wear hand me downs and spends all her time talking on the phone w/ her friends...but depending on her b/c she's the only one that keeps your evil step-father from beating the crap out of you.

Ain't life grand...

Anonymous said...

A lot of us work for TYC and none us of learn anything form our leaders in Austin, all the information we get comes from the papers, if your told different your receiving a load of crap. How can anyone know anything about their future when you leaders refuse to talk to you, I understand they have their hands full but the last blog I read they have 280 employees in Austin you would think one of these could get the message out that we have had 3 employees arrested in the past two weeks and the reason? The "Plan" was vague and had little substance and if any legislator says it's a start they are kidding themselves. It leave too much wiggle room without any directives. LEAD!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

I agree with that - they (leadership) need to do a MUCH better job of conveying the current status/situation to ALL staff. I've personally been doing that with mine, but I can only reassure and inform so much b/c even I am just picking up bits and pieces here and there.

Anonymous said...

to anon at 5:08 --- please understand that a very small percentage of the 280 employees know any more than you do. I only know two people that have even met Ed. All I get is from the agency wide emails, blogs like this and the newspapers. No one is telling us anything either. I'd absolutely love to have some information to pass on!!

Anonymous said...

It just amazes me that not one person will stand up and state the obvious. The reason why TYC has 3 times the workers comp claims is simple, TYC staff have to restrain or inject them selves into a situation when you have two or more full grown men fighting (I did not state children). When two 18 year old men start fighting TYC staff have to break it up (restrain) if they do not they face probation or termination. TYC does not hire just men who happen to be 6'5 and weigh 250 pounds, they hire 18 year olds up to 65 year old men and women. But you wont read this or none of our elected officials will put this out there because it is not good news, but the truth. This seems to be what is missing in all of this, the truth.

Anonymous said...

I've read them both, and it strikes me that Owens' plan and the SAO plan are pretty much right in line w/ each other.

The SAO plan obviously goes into a lot more detail, but the big points? Are pretty much on par: move the facilities to more urban areas, reallocate resources, move the grievance system outside the TYC hierarchy, centralize some functions, etc...

I really hope Owens (or whoever's turn it is to sit at the front table and get the thrashing this week) points that out.

I swear I just don't get it, I could never in a million years have that job! I'm missing the gene that allows people to sit there and listen to that crap and keep from saying really obvious things, like "um, excuse me sir, please don't point your finger at me like I'm twelve, and while you're trashing out my plan b/c it was approved by Perry's board just before they committed hari kari, I assume you DID notice that it's pretty much the same plan that your bulldogs came up with?"

haha...Whitmire's head would probably explode. That would be awesome.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that we are reaping the rewards of years of ignoring the problem so that financial issues would not have to be addressed. In 20+ years of prosecution, I have committed kids to TYC - always as a last resort. In the past five or so, I have seen the results of inadequate funding. There have been "voices in the wilderness" - which have been ignored.

Gee - you ignore the tiger long enough, and sooner or later, it's going to come back and bite. Why are we surprised?

Anonymous said...

Lets see, Dr. Reyes gone, Neil Nichols gone, Resocialization soon to be gone, business manager, human resources, and all local support at the Institution level gone with all power going to Austin. The "Master" has been said this week in unconstitutional, the legislators have no clue who or what Institution will close, the "Plan" has no specifics, we find out about co-workers and everything else through the newspaper. It is sad that we have elected officials allowing all this to take place and 4 week into all of this we have made no head way. As of today the legislators are still trying to figure out how to fix this problem. We elected these folks and they are clueless. They allow Perry to place a person in a position that has no real authority, he allows the board to resign and hand it over to a man from TDCJ who has no real experience dealing with this and under scrutiny himself. Glad I'm from Texas!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Personally, Perry will not have my vote for any elected office in the state of Texas or, as rumor has it, for vice president of the U.S. I hope that I can count on all former and present TYC employees for support as well as that of all the teachers in this state. The same support should be exercised for some our elected officials, they need to be voted out of office. We all know who they are, the ones that voted on a pay raise for themselves and the governor. While the peons at TYC and the teachers were shafted once again.
Voting is the only alternative we have folks, use it!!!

I am with all of you that stated no communication has filtered down from these people to field. We read it all in the papers. The sad thing is that we are no longer a valuable asset to this agency and will never be again. Now they can fire us at will. Imagine the scandals that will take place when one does not agree with management, RETALIATION ANYONE?? Where is the employee going to seek help, the employee grievance system is a farce. Most of us know that and will not bother with it.

Not one central office higher up ever solicited input or feedback from employees in the trenches. We could have contributed to an agency reform without a scandal. But they looked upon as working from the neck down and not worthy of exhibiting any sort of intelligence or forming an independent thought. They insulted our intelligence over and over again. They allowed the systemic disease to fester until it became a boil that erupted. Because, frankly, they did not want to know, a failure of agency administrators, who did not want to know and did not expect their house of cards to fall. They solicited the input of superintendents, assistants and managment team that supported the administrators. The rest of us were just looked upon as part of the furniture or as children who should be seen and not heard. We were not a valuable asset to the agency nor were we valued. They are left with employees who will never trust any administrator or central office ever again. Thank goodness for hotlines.

What can Owens & Pope do, they can admit for starters, that communication is an integral part of any organization or relationship. Don't depend on your superintedents, assistant superintedents or Human Resources people to filter iformation down to the employees. They edit, redact and report what they want us hear. They report to you what you want to hear. We are not valued employees, we are pawns in an agency learning how to function again. If TDCJ is any indication of an agency reform, folks we are in for a sad state of affairs!! We have been fleeced royally because TDCJ is back in the same situation as before the reform. Who should we thank for that. That will be headlines sooner or later!!

I, personally, understand the need for a chain of command. But, when the chain is rattling and the links are breaking, someone should be smart enough to listen and act!!

Management training means nothing when no there is no one to make administrators accountable for their management styles. A waste of tax payers dollars. Central office keeps training them and they remain staunch and stuck in whatever management style they chose. "I am the boss, you will do as I say." "I run this facility, not you." Women, you can forget about being an asset to this agency, we are looked upon as "emotional," and we should be home having babies, not in the workforce. It does not matter how many laws are passed, how many policies are written, until these administrators face the fact that have faults and deal with their big egos, they will stand in the way of reform for the agency. This a personal opinion and I'm sure not that of the agency.

TYC employees not in positions of managment are great people. They are proud, ethical, dependable, reliable and trustworthy. Something administrators have never acquired. Power breeds corruption and this agency is a prime example, at the expense of many that have lost their jobs and those that remain until the bitter end. Those that claimed not to have known about the scandal, should be ashamed!!! Those that got away without charges, congratulations for the licking the system you built and then tore down. Have you any idea how many lives and families were destroyed?
Your names will live and linger forever in our minds but for sure not in our hearts.

Will the new agency executives be able to rebuild the trust and loyalty of the employees, that folks, will be harder than they think. Good luck!