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New Probation chief ditches snoopy Cline, bones up on lawsuits

Greg Harman
gharman@sacurrent.com

For some employees within Bexar County Adult Probation, the New Year couldn’t come fast enough. As January approached, Former Probation Chief Bill Fitzgerald, ridiculed by more uncouth elements of the San Antonio media family (read: us) as a paranoid, out-of-touch, union-busting, foot fetishist, overflowing with blind faith in poorly performing piss sniffers (read: Treatment Associates), was ambling toward resignation and a string of court appearances. After shameful, closed-door votes violating the spirit of state Open Meetings law, local judges at last agreed to rotate 16-year felony case manager Jarvis Anderson into Fitzgerald’s seat.

And so with the Arctic chill that swept San Anto last week, Anderson blew in. Day three on the job brought the expulsion of his predecessor’s (mostly) loyal companion and legal adviser Kathy Cline, who had been likewise mistreated by pro-legalization forces in the city (read: us) as a vindictive, paranoid, union-buster with a penchant for late-night email snooping (on her boss and any suspected union members, according to the former IT director).

Jehovah may have rested on the seventh day, but Anderson is far from ready to kick back and sedately survey his creation. For starters, he’s got lots of re-creating to do. But tomorrow, his seventh in the swivel seat, he’ll be receiving the “blow-by-blow” briefing from Texas Attorney General suits on the slurry of lawsuits naming Fitzgerald and Cline and Adult Probation. “We have to come to some kind of resolution quick, where we can still function as a department,” he said.

As new hopes spring with these titular changes, local labor attorney David Van Os says he is close to submitting a settlement offer on one of his suits against Fitzgerald, one that would see Sheri Simonelli, head of the Central Texas Association of Public Employees, reinstated in her former position as a case worker at the department.

Simonelli was fired after publicly blowing the whistle on Treatment Associates. Though he didn’t name Simonelli specifically, Anderson said he hopes employees that left under Fitzgerald will consider returning to work. Simonelli, president of the CTAPE, says Fitzgerald’s retirement has been good to the union, with membership shooting up between 15 and 20 percent over the past week.

But one of Anderson's biggest tangles will be Treatment Associates. Drug-testing TA has had a rough time expanding from drug counseling to fluid dynamics. Strike One immediately followed Bexar County’s contract with the company as a rash of false positives swept the department, results that, according to at least one lawsuit, sent innocents into the cooler and caused some local judges to swear off their readings entirely.

Strike Two came when a TV crew caught TA employees dumping client records into public dumpsters. Finally, came allegations of employees charging probationers for guaranteed clean results, prompting a District Attorney investigation.

But Anderson’s first priority will be bringing the computer network into the 21st Century. Already representatives of Bexar County Juvenile Probation, Bexar County Information Systems, SAPD, and the DA’s office have expressed interest in linking up, something that would vastly improve the ability of his case managers to do their jobs, Anderson said.

“The system is long overdue, especially for a department this large,” he said. “Right now we have a system that’s kind of old, if you are not a part of that system … you can’t share it, you can’t send it, you can’t receive it. … That’s my number one priority.”

You know, it feels an awful lot like reform just having the boss calls you back for a chat. It's been more than a year that the righteously muck-rackin' Current has been begrudged (read: ignored) by the Fitz/Cline combo pack. It'd be impossible not to grant Anderson a full pack of gold stars.

Suddenly, Simonelli has lost her nemesi. That's alright, she says, from here on she expects the union won't be tied up fighting management and can switch to advocating for better state funding. That may be something the whole department can get behind.

Posted by gharman on 1/12/2010 5:34:09 PM
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