Los Angeles County Probation

Can Probation Chief Blevins Survive the Unions’ No Confidence Vote?

On Thursday, the four primary unions that represent all those (save management)
who work in the LA County Department of Probation announced what union leaders are calling an unprecedented “No Confidence” vote that was delivered in letter form to Probation Chief Donald Blevins.

Blevins, who took over the catastrophically troubled agency in the spring of 2010, was greeted with much hope when he was appointed nearly 15 months ago. But although Blevins is a very bright, experienced, likeable guy, with a much-needed progressive attitude toward juvenile probation, he has thus far demonstrated himself to be politically and managerially tone deaf.

For instance, during his first months on the job, through clumsy actions, he managed to actively alienate two of the five LA County Sups and has righteously irritated a 3rd.

At a management level, he failed to clean house at the top but instead allowed a lot of the holdovers from the previous administration (the one that caused much of the ghastly mess to begin with) to remain in place. Thus LA’s juvenile probation camps, which were already teetering on the verge of federal receivership, failed to make the progress that was demanded of them, and in certain crucial areas have actually back slid in ways that, according to the last report from the feds, endangered kids in some of the camps.

Then, most recently, when every other probation agency in every one of the other 57 counties in the state of California was preparing to take on the supervision of a pile of state parolees (bringing with them a pile of state money) through the new corrections policy known as “realignment,” in LA County, Blevins nearly lost the parolee contract to Sheriff Lee Baca and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. For one thing, Sheriff Baca went around and personally pitched his case to the Sups and others, while Blevins, whose pitch was a much better one, seemed lackadaisical, and even left town the for much of the last week before the Supervisors were expected to vote. (The vote has been delayed until next week, and the Sheriff has, in part, pulled out of the running.)

Plus, Blevins is rumored to have been out of town more this past year than makes any kind of sense for a guy who took over the most scarily troubled agency in Southern California.

Anyway, here’s an excerpt from the unions’ press release:

The L.A. County Probation Department’s juvenile division is in turmoil and the Chief Probation Officer has until October 2011 to resolve outstanding issues or risk having the Department taken into receivership by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). This threat has not been without warning. Not only has DOJ long since advised the County of what needs to be done to comply, but Probation Department employees, through their respective unions, have been raising many of these same issues for decades – even filing lawsuits against the County of Los Angeles to demand remedy.

With the risk of DOJ action against the juvenile division, coupled with the reality that under AB 109, Public Safety Realignment, as many as 15,000 parolees will soon be the responsibility of the Probation Department’s Adult Field Services division, the time for fixing the Department is past due.

Probation Department employees – group supervisors, detention services officers, deputy probation officers, supervising deputy probation officers, and probation directors, as well as the staff who support our work – are deeply concerned with the pace of progress and, simply put, we can wait no longer.

I like Blevins. But, after talking to people in and out of county government for the past few days as the No Confidence announcement was brewing, its hard to know how he can survive this blow.

The LA Times and the LA Weekly also reported on the story.

NOTE: IN DILLON, MT, AND HEADED HOME: Since I’m writing this in the wee hours from my lodging in Dillon MT, although there is much other news, it will have to wait until I’m back in our fair city.

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