L.A. County supervisors interviewing potential probation chief

Donald H. Blevins, probation chief in Alameda County, has emerged as the leading candidate to head Los Angeles County’s beleaguered Probation Department, according to two people familiar with the selection process.

Sources said late last week that William T Fujioka, the county’s chief executive, was recommending Blevins and had ruled out the other finalists: Jerry Powers, chief of probation in Stanislaus County, and Bernard Warner, leader of the Juvenile Justice Division of the California Department of Corrections.

Fujioka would not publicly name Blevins as his candidate of choice but said he had presented someone for the job.

“We are scheduling one-on-one meetings with each county supervisor because of the [crucial nature] of this position,” he said.

If Blevins’ interviews go well, the board will vote in closed session on his appointment. That would end a lengthy process to replace outgoing chief Robert Taylor, who announced in May that he wished to retire.

Blevins has led Alameda County’s department since 2003, and L.A. County supervisors were said to be impressed with his turnaround of the department and his handling of tight budgets there. Before his Alameda experience, Blevins was probation director of San Diego County, where he had worked since 1976.

In Los Angeles County, he would face the biggest challenge of his career. The department’s 6,200 staffers oversee 60,000 adult probationers and 20,000 youths, including about 3,600 in county-run detention halls and camps. The juvenile operation has been the subject of U.S. Justice Department oversight for misuse of force, and county supervisors have criticized persistent management lapses.

“It is not a secret that the Probation Department is in shambles,” L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky recently told The Times. “The department needs to be overhauled from top to bottom.”

But county officials have struggled in recent months to fill top executive jobs. Headhunters reported to county officials late last year that candidates for many of the departments in need of a leader had expressed serious reservations about being considered.

The jobs are seen as problematic in part because of the steady demand to find additional budget cutbacks as the economy continues to falter.

In addition to probation, other county departments currently led by interim or retiring leaders include the Human Resources Department and the Regional Planning Department.

The Health Services Department, which operates the county’s network of public hospitals and clinics, has worked without a permanent chief for 21 months.