A package of proposals to increase accountability and oversight of Los Angeles County’s troubled Probation Department failed to move forward Tuesday because Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas declined to vote on it.
In response to scathing reports on the department’s broken internal affairs unit and the abuse of minors, the package would have authorized the drafting of policies that would give Probation Chief Donald H. Blevins the ability to hire many top managers from outside the department. That would relax Civil Service protections that unions have worked hard to maintain.
The measures would also have authorized the development of a plan to hire attorneys from the county’s Office of Independent Review to oversee the department’s internal affairs unit, which has failed to impose discipline on scores of staffers accused of serious abuses.
Additionally, the proposals would have ordered immediate investigation of any staffers accused of misuse of department credit cards or lapses in discipline, as well as those recently arrested on suspicion of crimes.
“The longer you wait, the harder it gets,” said Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who ordered the package of measures added to next week’s agenda. “If you have a tough decision to make, the sooner you make it, the easier the tough decision is — and that is certainly the case here.”
Ridley-Thomas’ support was crucial because Supervisor Mike Antonovich was traveling home from a conference and vacation in China, and Supervisor Don Knabe was vacationing. Ridley-Thomas’ abstention left the measures one vote shy of approval from the five-member board, effectively shelving the package until it can be taken up again next week.
Ridley-Thomas said he sat out the vote because he wanted the full board to be present. Knabe and Antonovich, however, had sponsored portions of the package, and their spokesmen said they had not wanted their absences to delay action on the measures.
In an interview, Ridley-Thomas said he was undecided on the measures, and suggested that the effort to relax Civil Service protections for county employees might be misplaced.
“It is clear to me that Civil Service has its place,” he said. “The question is whether we can cause managers and rank and file to serve the mission of probation in the county of Los Angeles. I am not of the view that the problems with probation are reducible to Civil Service.”
The union representing probation employees was part of a coalition that funded an $8.4-million campaign to elect Ridley-Thomas in 2008.
Since then, Ridley-Thomas has occasionally proved to be a political ally. He declared Probation Officers Week last Tuesday and honored Ralph Miller, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 685.