Thursday, July 12, 2007

TYC will move young offenders to contract facilities; agency leadership mistaking Texas Register for public process

Two people at yesterday's Texas Youth Commission "State of the Agency" event asked how the public could have input as the troubled agency revamped its rules. The department heads replied that they could be contacted personally. Executive Director Dimitria Pope declared the process would be "public" and that all rule changes would be published in the Texas Register, which is the weekly notice bulletin for all state agency rulemaking published by the Secretary of State.

But you know what? That's not much of a public process. Bureaucrats will take input on rules, if offered, but nobody is getting stakeholders in the room to discuss matters to judge by the answers yesterday.

TYC formerly had a board whose meetings provided an automatic forum for discussion before rules were adopted. But now that the agency operates with a single Executive Director (read: the Decider), the Texas Register notice is apparently all the access the public gets.

Earlier this spring I noticed significant changes in TYC rules authorizing the recent exodus of hundreds of youth from TYC. The rule authorized TYC to waive drug treatment and other programming requirements, and reduced the amount of time a child must be discipline free before release from 90 to 30 days. The changes were published in the Texas Register but despite all the hype this spring, the agency received ZERO comments.

That doesn't mean nobody had opinions, though. When I posted about it on Grits, readers had more than 200 comments.

Do you read the Texas Register every week? Does anybody besides administrative lawyers and people looking for state contracts? Most Texans don't even know what it is. But after what Ms. Pope said I'm going to make it a regular stop. It's published every Friday. (See the righthand column of this page for current and past issues.)

In fact, I went and looked at the last few Texas Registers to see what additional rulemaking they'd already put through this "public" process. Two items popped up that were already approved, but I'll bet most employees at TYC, much less the press and the public, didn't know about them:

For starters, did anybody know TYC has already issued and closed an RFP to use contract care for kids aged 10-13? I sure didn't see that reported. But the Register revealed the following RFP with deadline of June 4:

RFP#2007-31 To Provide for a Residential Program for Younger Offenders.

The Texas Youth Commission (TYC) is seeking proposals for a safe residential setting for male or female younger juvenile offenders who are between the ages of 10 through 13. The program should reflect as nearly as possible an environment that is developmentally appropriate to this age group. The program should be conducive to promoting positive behavioral changes in young juveniles. The program can be 48 beds or smaller located within the State of Texas.

Eligible applicants include corporations, private non-profit agencies, private for-profit agencies, or individuals. The TYC encourages historically underutilized businesses (HUBs) to respond to this request for proposal. Proposals must be received no later than 5:00 p.m. Central Daylight Time on June 4, 2007.

Proposals will be evaluated and selected based on the description of services, applicant's qualifications and past experience, reasonableness and competitiveness of cost and resources, and applicant's demonstrated ability to commence services on or after July 1, 2007 and before October 31, 2007.

More than one contract may be awarded. ...

The closing date for receipt of proposals is 5:00 p.m. Central Daylight Time on June 4, 2007.

That's a pretty big deal, don't you think, to get no more public notice than a Texas Register item? The contracts haven't been let as of this morning, and the TYC employee in charge of the RFP said he needed to ask the attorneys before he could tell me who and how many applicants gave proposals. I requested that information and a copy of the RFP, so I'll let you know more when I get it.

Another new rule adopted on an "emergency" basis certainly is a positive one, but again I doubt it's the case that nobody really cares about it, as the lack of comments mentioned in the Register would suggest. The rule re-opens records about abuse and complaints at TYC facilities to their previous status. While he was conservator, Jay Kimbrough decided to close the records media outlets like the Texas Observer and the Dallas Morning News had used to break the story of sex allegations at the West Texas state school. This rule formally reverses that decision, which was changed in a new state law. See the new rule on such records here.

Though some things I heard yesterday encouraged me, this question of an opaque decisionmaking process inevitably will damage the good work they're trying to do - when agencies exclude stakeholders in rulemaking, the result is usually a screwed up decision.

At a minimum I'd like to see TYC publish all proposed rule changes on its own website and give email notice to employees and stakeholders, as well as in the Register. On big stuff like moving young kids to contract care, a press release would be nice. The Texas Register CANNOT be the main communication vehicle between the agency, its employees and the public about major changes at TYC.


Anonymous said...

Contract facilities for younger boys has been attempted before, been a few years and I don't remember the name of the facility (Bowie County). I do remember that it was a big mess and a very troubled program. Many allegations of abuse and out of control behavior. As I recall J.T. left TYC to run the facility eventually returning to work at Giddings.
Could work, but past history is a good indicator of future success, especially when the state tends to award the contract to subpar companies or the lowest bidder.

Anonymous said...

Excellent research and reporting! Without a doubt, stakeholders inside and outside the TYC organization should be given an opportunity to provide their expertise before new rules are published.

Improvement of communication within TYC is badly needed. Something as simple as a weekly newsletter. Who knows, getting input from the staff that are actually doing the work might be helpful.

Once again Management has a chance to do something to help this miserable agency. I sure hope they read your research and take it to heart.

Good work Grits, Thanks!!

Nurit said...

TYC notifies employees with email access of policy and procedure changes through an administrative memo. In a recent directive from Ms. Pope (which is not on the TYC intranet), she notified all employees that she alone will issue administrative memo's. Procedure changes continue to originate with individual departments. Neither seeks or requires general comment from employees or the public.

Not all employees understand the difference between policy and procedure. Policies must be published in the Texas Register and have the weight of "law."

Procedures, on the other hand, do not have to be published in the Texas Register since they change frequently. These are the guidelines for daily operations.

External communication, believe it or not, has improved, but internal communication is still only through word-or-mouth, reading the newspaper, or asking someone who happens to mention that they were at a meeting where something was discussed.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Nurit, if you or anybody else has a copy of that recent "directive" from Ms. Pope, I'd appreciate you sending it along. Thanks!

And to be clear, were TYC employees notified in any internal memo that they planned to move kids age 10-13 to contract facilities? I'd never heard that, but the RFP period is already CLOSED!

Also, I totally understand not having public comment or participation on internal procedures (though I don't understand not communicating them regularly within the agency). But on policies, which as you say have the weight of law, there needs to be more stakeholder input before it gets to the Texas Register, IMO. best,

Anonymous said...

You were the first to break this news. Nothing came across to the employees about this proposed change.

Anonymous said...

So they just did a 6-stop "State of the Agency" tour and forgot to tell employees they were moving 10-13 year olds into contract care?!! When did they plan to mention that, I wonder? After Geo Group received the contract?

Anonymous said...

Grits, great work again. You are fast becoming a one man citizen oversight board.

More questions:
How will TYC decide who wins the contract?
What process is in place for that? If there is a committee that evaluates provider applications, who sits on it?

What kind of oversight will TYC or the legislature provide for this private provider?
Bill Bush, UNLV

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"You are fast becoming a one man citizen oversight board."

Fer Godssake don't hang me with that job, Bill - there's another volunteer gig I don't need! ;) What I need is help - moles and informants to send me more goodies.

Otherwise, Thanks! I'm going to look more into this whole privatization kick and see if I can get more info about the contract process. OTOH, nobody knows what's the hiring process for any of the top agency officials, either. This stuff just seems to happen, you know? best,

Anonymous said...

Under the rules of conservatorship, current policy regarding hiring doesn't apply and the conservator make those appointments. That's what we're being told in Austin.

I heard you called up there asking about the RFP on the 10-13 year olds? I wonder why they kept that hushed? Get an answer? Bet not....

Anonymous said...

This is in the Conservator Update dated April 10th linked off of TYC's homepage.

Mailed pre-notifications April 4th to potential programs interested in bidding for TYC youth placements. This week, we will draft three RFPs (requests for proposal): for programs to provide services to younger TYC youth, for programs to provide non-secure treatment services, and for programs to provide secure, residential services.

Anonymous said...

Without input from outside stakeholders and experts in actually implementing SB 103, nothing will ever change in TYC institutions. If legislators don't take a stand on this lack of transparency, then we know they really are full of s*it.

Anonymous said...

If CO tells employees what they are really doing, thinking or trying to do ,propose and whatever else of any importance they fear that us hard working people will jump ship faster than we are now.

Warm bodies are needed to watch the kids until the new plan is ready to take the kids. Kind of like an airplane crash. If you tell everyone there is going to be crash no one will ride the plane that has any sense or unless they have a death wish.
What these new hires don't understand is that the field staff are stressed over the wait and see game they are playing with all of us. When you have this kind of morale of the folks that are watching the kids, it is affecting the kids and they don't have enough sense to see that or care about that. If they claim to care it is not true or they would fix it now!
To run a program like TYC no one has ever learned that you have to take care of those that are taking care of the kids first. If they are treated like professionals they will treat the kids in a positive manner. They will become the role models for these kids. They will have pride in what they do. TYC can not get that concept. They believe that there are people standing in line to join this agency.
You want a better TYC, one you can be proud of Texas Legs? Then start with the people that work there first. Fix that and the rest will follow. You will have an agency that people are standing in line to work there, happy outgoing staff that care about the job and the kids. You will have a safe,learning enviroment for kids to reform and rehab programs that works/treatment centers that cares about the product(kid). Until you do that CO you will have nothing but what you have now a dysfuntional organization that is out of control and staff that barely can make it thru a day til they find another job.
Slogan that kids come first, maybe they should change that to Staff comes first and kids will follow. How simple of a fix is that?
I am going to repeat myself here. If you have happy employees that are work everyday, enjoying what they do and they know they matter then you will have kids that will benifit a 100 times more from that atmosphere than the one they are in now. You will show them daily positive role models, better way of life and help them make the right choices by the ones that are guiding them.
You show kids a stress/overworked staff who is treated daily that he can be replaced at the drop of a hat, talked to in ways that they would fire them if they spoke to kids that way, threaten by write ups and silly reprimands on a daily basis. His family does not matter all that matters is that you are work to cover the shift/classroom/dorm??? You are dogged daily by your supervisor or other staff. Then you are expected to be a positive role model for kids? No way that is happening and if anyone does not believe that this is not passed on to the kids and they can't pick up on all of this is STUPID!
Happy Staff, HAPPY KIDS.

oldsalty said...

Follow the money

Anonymous said...

GRITS, interestingly, the Executive Director's page has disappeared from our intranet. That was where the Signature Authority note was posted outlining the sole authority belonging to The Pope. There also is no page for the General Counsel. Also the personnel policy for "expedited termination" has been repealed. HMMMMM

Some TYC employees knew that there was an RFP because they reviewed the responses. If it is all younger wards or some younger youth is unclear. The reasons may be because current physical infrastructure limits the ability to house younger youth separate from older youth.

Unknown said...

Does anyone know if you can sue a privately funded facility ? Supposedly suing a state run institution is basically impossible unless civil rights violations are proven but if its privately run and operated wouldn't that change the rules of procedure?