Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Report from TYC 'State of the Agency' meeting in Houston

Houston writer Elizabeth Stein attended the Texas Youth Commission "State of the Agency" meeting in Houston yesterday, and I'm grateful that she forwarded this report from the event. I'm curious if any Grits readers have experience with the various committees Pope describes? Let me know your experiences with those bodies or any other thought about the State of the Agency in the comments.

Here's Ms. Stein's rendition from the event:
Elizabeth Ann Stein

The room was packed July 9 for the Houston stop of the six-city Texas Youth Commission State of the Agency tour.

More than 100 employees, volunteers and legislative stakeholders listened as the top brass of the embattled agency outlined plans to transform itself into a child-centered entity with potential as an international model.

On this tour, of course, the lead act was TYC acting Executive Director Dimitria Pope.

"The message I bring to you is that children come first," Pope said. She asked employees to "stop thinking of me, me, me" and start thinking about ways to make the lives of incarcerated children better.

Maneuvering a handheld microphone with the alacrity of a talk-show host, Pope described an agency-wide restructuring designed to break up the unit-based fiefdoms that drew so much criticism in a report issued 10 weeks ago by the agency's temporary conservator, Jay Kimbrough.

Gov. Rick Perry appointed Kimbrough, his former deputy chief of staff, as special master to revamp the agency in the wake of allegations of sex abuse and a cover-up at TYC.

One hint of Pope's determination to alter the agency's heretofore facility-centered power structure were the locations of the meeting. For the record, the Houston session was at the Children's Assessment Center. But the settings for this and the other stops in the tour were more interesting for where they were not-- none was at a TYC unit.

The State of the Agency tour made stops at the end of June in Odessa, Waco and Richardson. Additional stops were planned July 10 in Harlingen and July 11 in Austin, where the largest turnout is expected.

Pope described the assignment of all TYC facilities into one of three regions: northwest, east and south. Each region will have its own director, as well as staff capable of working with the units on a wide range of responsibilities.

A folder distributed to attendees included a map of Texas with each of the three new regions indicated by color.

"We're regionalizing the agency to give it more of a presence in the field." Pope explained. "Every division and department will have a presence in the field."

The most enthusiastically received statement of the afternoon seemed to be that TYC is soliciting employees' suggestions on how the agency might do better in every facet of its work.

"All of the policies and procedures of the organization are up for grabs, along with the contracts," Pope said. When employees articulated problems or made suggestions during the forum, she appointed them, on the spot, to join or form a committee to draft a proposal for TYC's consideration.

Tracy Levin of Administrative Support and Community Relations has been keeping track of and coordinating the activities of the growing number of committees Pope has formed as employees bring up new concerns during the meetings.

Some committees have already begun meeting and drafting proposals, with members from different areas of the state traveling to do the committee work.

"I have opened the doors and said, 'Hey, if you are out in the field and have a particular area of interest ... there's a signup sheet here for committee assignments,'" Pope said. "Don't come to me with problems. Come to me with solutions."

The long-term goal of the changes being made at TYC is to transform the agency into one that does its job so well, it will serve as a model for similar entities around the world, she said.

With a mandate from lawmakers to act swiftly, Pope has set ambitious deadlines for many of the changes. Her schedule includes visiting every TYC office and facility -- by the end of August.

Other speakers from TYC included Yolanda Hall on legislative appropriations; Stan DeGerolami, operations and residential services; David Walenta, treatment and workforce development; Christi Mallette, youth reentry initiatives; Donna Payne, health services; Eric Young, human resources; Steve Foster, legal issues, and Will Harrell, ombudsman. Legislative presence at the forum included state Rep. Corbin Van Arsdale, plus members of the staffs of Sen. John Whitmire, Rep. Debbie Riddle, and Sen. Tommy Williams. All serve on the Legislature's Joint Select Committee on the Operation and Management of the Texas Youth Commission.

Tuesday's State of the Agency stop in Harlingen will be at the Best Western Casa Villa Suites, 9 a.m. to noon. The Austin meeting Wednesday will be in the Capitol Extension Auditorium, 9 a.m. to noon.


Anonymous said...

Interesting summary of the dog and pony show. I've seen it before and we will most certainly see it again.
It seems whenever a Texas agency gets caught with their hand in the perverbial cookie jar, mass committees are formed and talk of reform splashes across the newspaper headlines. I wish I could believe these committees were going to be allowed to accomplish anything, but once again, I think it is verbal game playing to the masses that are appalled at the current conditions of... in this case, TYC. A collective gasp was heard around the state when the details of abuse on our incarcerated children was revealed publicly. I'm sure all these children will now be safe due to the mass formation of committees. I say to sit back and watch. Committee meetings are just another corporate cover up trying to lead us to believe they will fix all the problems. It will sooth the employees, the parents, the well meaning citizens of Texas, and most of, it will make the governor look like he actually cares. I will sit back and wait for action, not words. Committee meetings are simply a group of people on the clock and off the job, sitting around deciding if they want to hear themselves talk, and pandering to the political pundit of the day. The people attending that truly do care may be allowed to toss their two cents in, but in the end, their input is rarely considered when the real decisions are made. They are done out of sight and out of hearing range of the so called committee. You'll recognize the true decision makers by the whip lash symptoms they display after patting themselves on the back so often.
Yes, I sound cynical and I am. I've watched the same dog and pony show with TDCJ for far too long. TYC is just the prelude to adult incarceration. Although I have great admiration for actual employees dedicated to rehabilitating these children, it is highly unlikely they will make a difference until their hands on ideas are put into play. Who better to know what these children need than those who work with them daily?
I do hope I am wrong about the new committees forming, but until I see action instead of words, I will hold true to what I believe.

Anonymous said...

Typical management tactic! Anyone that speaks up receives responsibility for what ever is wrong. It doesn't take any time at all before no one speaks up.

All it means is the person with good ideas is given more work and management sheds responsibility like water off a duck's back.

This approach will work better if the committee memebers are given extra compensation for their work and expertise.

I agree with outspoken woman. This is all spin and the real decisions will be made based upon a cover your ass mentality with an eye to the budget.

Anonymous said...

What I find perplexing and disturbing is that even those, such as "outspoken woman" who purport to support the actual people who work with the youth, accept at face value the allegations that were made about system-wide abuse in the TYC in the wake of the actual abuse that occurred and was covered up at WTSS. She needs to be cynical, about the political leadership. I know for a fact, for instance that one of the kids whose mother made the most dramatic complaints, is a dangerous criminal who made up every single allegation he made. All of his allegations were thoroughly investigated, not only by internal investigators, but by law enforcement, and all of them were bogus. I have heard that such was the case with most of the allegations that were made. Yet, people accept as a given that TYC tolerated wide-spread abuse. All of TYC was tarred for the sins of a very few.

Anonymous said...

Anomyous at 8:45 - The scandal is the cover up! I'm not aware of anyone that disputes that fact.

Sure there are bad acts among many good people. The outrage is that TYC management tolerated, covered up and ignored........

Bad management, once exposed can never be tolerated, period, end of story.

Anonymous said...

The tactic of creating a committee to handle a "concern" has been going on since the TDCJ crowd took over. Can anyone name anything these committees have ever accomplished. Managment just ignores whatever they come up with and does whatever they want, which is usually to make no decision or to say the result was not on the correct color coded form.

Anonymous said...

At these meetings someone needs to ask the important questions that the dog and pony show does not address such as: Where are the written policies to implement the "reforms"? What did happen to all those suspended employees and what did that boondoggle cost? Why are personnel being hired without job postings, interviews, and in some cases no juvenile justice experience or other job related experience? Why are many contracts being issued without competitive bidding? Why was an outside law firm hired to handle open records request when there were TYC attorneys available to handle the requests? Why are there still 19 and 20 year olds incarcerated more than a month after SB 103 took effect? Where are the review panels that SB 103 mandated? How is TYC providing sex offender treatment without licensed sex offender treatment providers? ETC. ETC.

Anonymous said...

Ahhhh more TYC committees. I agree with outspoken woman on this subject. People get "selected" to be on one of these committees and give their time and effort thinking it will make a difference. After many meetings that might actually produce something to help the situation at hand, it gets handed to the top brass and suddenly it all disappears. You end up with wasted time, money, and low employee moral. (don't know if it could really get any lower) Let's see if the new bunch at TYC will waste taxpayer money as easily as Dwight and his bunch did. My question still remains...has anything actually been done with the 2 men from WTSS that started this mess? People with felonies have been fired because of them but they have not had to pay for what they did? Maybe DP should appoint someone to be on that COMMITTEE!

Anonymous said...

"...accept at face value the allegations that were made about system-wide abuse in the TYC in the wake of the actual abuse that occurred and was covered up at WTSS."

No one has be convicted of the abuse in WTSS, and there has been no real evidence of a cover-up. You are accepting that at face value. Both of those men should have been tried by now, but it appears that the attorney general is sitting on it now.

The truth seems to be "out of sight out of mind." None of it is news anymore. When TDCJ was in the hot seat for the seven escapees, they were supposedly reformed, but does any of us really know what happened to cause that?

Anonymous said...

One person hired Ray Brookins, the same person refused to fire him when he was caught with pornography on his TYC computer, the same person refused to fire him over failure to honor numerous traffic citations, the same person engineered his transfer to WTSS, and promoted him to acting Supt. That same person castigated persons who tried to report what he was up to, and reported back to her boss that there was nothing to the allegations. That smells an awful lot like a cover-up to me. That was not a system-wide problem.

Additionally, the AG office, the Governor's office and key legislators were informed about the alleged abuse at WTSS in 2005, but they were not interested. All the ballyhoo about the systemic problems in TYC look an awful lot like a smokescreen to keep the public distracted from what the political leaders knew all along.

How about the open bay dorms, the budget cuts and the overcrowding? All forced on TYC by.... the legislature. Hmmm....

Anonymous said...

There has been no movement on the case against Brookins. Nothing has happened since the arraignment hearing way back in April, I think. The judge in the case gave a set number of days for discovery to be provided to both defense teams and I believe that time has long passed...there may be nothing to the cases. The AG doesn't seem to be very interested anymore...there's a question for you Grits.

Anonymous said...

Maybe John Whitmire and his committee should be tarred and feathered for ignoring the alleged abuse back in 2005. Whitmire just waved it off when the prior ED brought it to his attention. The governor shares some major responsibility in this as well.

You may be right. Convicting Brookins and the school principal in the press probably messed up their cases. You know, as far as the Ranger is concerned, he didn't yell loud enough. He shouldn't be getting any pats on the back from the legislature. He's a Texas Ranger, dammit! Do your job and quit worrying about the political consequences. Stand up and be a man.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I've said this before, but I don't buy blaming Whitmire for having been told in 2005. I was in the room when it happened. Everyone was already leaving, Harris said O, one more thing, and Whitmire asked him to brief the committee at the next opportunity. The followup information provided to members basically told them everything was being taken care of, but Harris didn't follow through.

Some of the other stuff about the Lege's responsibility for most of the structural flaws at TYC they're now complaining about (rural facilities, open bay dorms, misdemeanants in TYC, 19-20 year olds housed with middle schoolers) I'm totally on board with - there's been a lot of grandstanding and blame gaming going on that's indefensible, including at times by Whitmire. But I personally think that charge about having known in 2005 is incorrect and a cheap shot.

Anonymous said...

My experience has been that these "committees" are nothing more than a huge waste of taxpayer money and employee effort. I have worked fervently on many committees during my (previous) employment with TYC. Those committees have produced good results, but nothing has ever come from the brass to approve implementation of anything those committees produced. I seriously doubt that we'll see any improvements in that regard.

BTW, a lot of folks are wondering whatever happened to those felons who had been placed on suspension. Most of those felons had even disclosed their criminal histories up front. I can tell you that at least one of the felons has been terminated.

I would really like to see the MSM pursue the issue of the gov & lege being aware of the WTSS fiasco two years ago. They should be accountable for their failure to address the allegations then. They get to walk away, while others suffer the diversion created by the smokescreen. The former ED should also be culpable for his failure to follow through. Careers of good employees have been ruined, and families have been placed in turmoil.

I will miss you all, but I also know we'll keep in touch. You are all in my prayers.

I'm out!

Anonymous said...

Your excuse for Whimire does not hold up. It is true Harris' statement was at the end of a public meeting but it was followed up by a couple of e-mails from TYC to Whitmire or his staff according to the newspapers. Why didn't he act on those?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

As I said earlier, because those emails assured legislators that Harris was handling it appropriately, then he did not. The goal of those emails was to smooth things over and prevent further inquiries by assuring legislators all was well. If they'd been more forthcoming, I'd agree Whitmire et. al. would bear more of the blame.

More culpable, to me, were the AG officials who had access to the Ranger report a year before the media story broke, not to mention TYC officials who knew the lurid details but sat on their hands.

Anonymous said...

What's this love affair you have with Whitmire, Grits? In your eyes, this egomaniac can't do wrong. Your defense of him is suspect. When people disagree with you it's because they're either mean-spirited or take cheap shots.

It's your credibility, dude.

Anonymous said...

All forming all these committees serves to accomplish is bolster the notion that people (Ms. Pope, et al) who don't know what they're doing will try anything to divert attention from that fact. "Don't come to me with problems, come with answers"? What are we paying you $125k+ a year for, anyway? For that kind of money, you'd think she'd be able to get "something" on paper and out to the field.

According to Ed Owens, Dimitria Pope was the logical choice to run TYC because she had been involved in the transition from day one. Someone with that kind of knowledge and experience should not be having the difficulties in devising a strategy for restructuring TYC that seems to have befallen Ms. Pope and her TDCJ crew. Unless of course, she really hasn't a clue. That could explain why there is no plan, there are no policies, and Ms. Pope has to solicit potential solutions from the field under the guise of challenging these people who do know what's going on to solve the problems for her. I seriously doubt that she will have any reservations about taking responsibility for other people's solutions that work. And for those that don't meet with her approval, there's always the axe.

All of you can continue to be righteously indignant with whomever you choose...Ray Brookins, John Paul Hernandez, the lege, the AG, the Governor, Wobbles the Goose. The truth of the matter and "real" issue here is that TYC will never heal under this collection of TDCJ, juvenile corrections wannabes. It baffles me that so many people can see that there is no viable treatment going on and yet refuse to see that the people running the show don't know the first thing about treatment and could care less. One of the astute posters asked a very telling question about what good has come out of any of these committees to date? The answer is a resounding "NONE"!!!!!!! And once again, there is no help for TYC from our pals in the MSM. At the rate we're being led down the primrose path, TYC will soon be no more than finishing school for the adult system.

Anonymous said...

Grits, although you may have been there and are relying on your memory, it is time for you to watch the archived video from March 15, 2005. No one was "leaving the room" when Mr. Harris brought up the situation at West Texas. In fact, there was still another approximately 45 minutes to go on the archived video when he brought it up.

What in fact was happening is that Senator Whitmire was talking to someone else while Mr. Harris was attempting to discuss the situation. He didn't listen and then he waved Mr. Harris off, telling them he could brief them at a later date.

Couple that attempt with the combination of the emails that were sent, and the lege cannot continue to say it didn't know about the situation. To try to spin it that they assumed it was being handled doesn't explain why, in 2007, they claimed they WERE NEVER TOLD OF THE SITUATION. No matter how much more you think TYC needed to do to make them aware, they are not being truthful when they say no one told them about it.

That is the point people are trying to make and a big part of why we are so upset with what is happening in our agency.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@4:35 - No love affair with Whitmire, I just have watched him on these topics for a long time and know that he does a lot of good that goes along with the grandstanding that irritates everybody here. I've worked for and with politicians my whole adult life - they almost all have huge egos that would offend most average folks. It's just part of the business.

As for who "knew" about the incident, to me those who saw the Ranger's report have more culpability. The emails you're talking about that informed the Lege also told them basically 'We're handling it.' But then they didn't, and two years later (with no additional updates, btw) it was still unresolved. That part is on TYC management, 100%.

Finally, you'll notice that this blog didn't play the "who's to blame" game much on the whole matter and focused more on where the agency should go from here. That was more the Dallas News' fetish.

Anonymous said...

to 8:11pm,

I'd like to add to your well-written comment:

Many posters are quick to cite the lack of juvenile justice experience held by Pope and Co., yet fail to mention that they have little experience in a de facto "hostile takeover." Also, Pope managed no more than a handful of people at her prior gig. Why now is she oh-so-qualified to "lead" an entire agency?

It seems like Pope's major accomplishments thus far are to re-arrange her office furniture, play musical chairs with the cube assignments in Central Office, and replace purple binding on the Resocialization handbook with a yellow one. Oh wait...I forgot one...handing out choice TYC jobs & contracts to her cronies. How's that for $125K/yr?!


Anonymous said...

I have been to one of the state address' and I must say I was not impressed during a visit back home to Texas. They talk about being kid friendly, etc, but their actions are totally against it. I use to work at a HWH for TYC until I moved out of state. Now that Superintendent is on Suspension for supposed misuse of stamps and Fed Ex. She was the most kid oriented supervisor. I loved my job, staff were happy, at least all but a couple, and the youth knew that she and the staff cared. I learned so much from her and to think that a couple of staff who she held accountable and did not like it, with a supervisor who did not support her, are able to totally disrupt the program. The program use to be strong, youth did well in education, families were pleased with the treatment, but most of all moral was also high between all staff. If this agency is being truthful in it's presentations to staff, she should be back at work where she belongs. Take a look now at the program, see how it is running. If you lose this Superintendent, than you have lost a very valuable asset, in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:40 am
What supervisor makes every person happy? That is the fact of the job. It is a shame that she is being treated like this. Grits, you commented on this, what is your take?

Anonymous said...

And the person in the AG office who directly supervised the AG lawyer who turned the case down was, guess who? If you guessed a tall motorcycle-riding lawyer with grey hair who has been rewarded for his good work as the first conservator of TYC, you made a pretty good guess? How can anyone possibly maintain that the pols did not engage in a cover-up?

Anonymous said...

You cannot ignore all these posts concerning the blinders you have to legislature culpability.

Anonymous said...

The Conservator supervised the AG lawyer who declined to act on the WTX case? If so, why didn't he make sure the two were taken out of circulation in 2005?

Rambo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rambo said...

Does anyone know if any attorneys are taking cases -- either individual or class-action? I'd sure like to know who those attorneys are.

Anthony, are you out there? How's progress for you?

Anonymous said...

Speaking of interesting places the meetings were held - I seriously doubt Ms. Pope knew the significance of the place she chose in Odessa for the first meeting - the J. Conrad Dunagan Memorial Library at the University of Texas/Permian Basin. The late J. Conrad and his lovely wife Kitty Dunagan are founding citizens of Ward County - where the West Texas State School is located. Of course, the joke was on the Pope the whole time and she never got it...Kitty Dunagan was unfortunately unable to attend the meeting but was there in spirit, as was Conrad...laughing all the while. You never could put anything over on Conrad, or Kitty. I just wish he could've been there...Pope would've walked different when she left.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the"dog and pony"show describing TYC`s State of The Agency`s meeting.Of interest was the presentation by Christi Mallete,who is a "holdover"from the previous so-called "leadreship".She should do TYC and herself a favor and resign.At this point,she is just trying to make herself look good for the new guys running the show.However,Ms.Pope is just another political appointee delegating committees with no real power,only to be silenced when real issues of concern are presented.Such as,do I dare to say,low morale and hostile working conditions perpetuated by supervisors toward staff.