You have to give Rick Perry credit for consistency. In good times and in bad, whether he's in trouble or he's in clover, his first instinct is always the same: Appoint a crony to do whatever needs to be done.
Under pressure from the Legislature to put the troubled Texas Youth Commission into conservatorship, Gov. Rick Perry on Friday instead named one of his aides as a special master to oversee an investigation of the agency.
Perry named his former Deputy Chief of Staff Jay Kimbrough, who has had his own controversial past, as the special master to head an investigation into whether TYC administrators covered up allegations that staff members had sexually abused youthful offenders incarcerated in agency facilities.
The Legislative Audit Committee, made up of the Legislature's leadership, had wanted Perry to either name a conservator for the agency or direct state Auditor John Keel to develop a rehabilitation plan for it.
Perry rejected the conservatorship, but authorized Keel to begin his review of the agency along with new acting Executive Director Ed Owens.
Rep. Jim Dunnam of Waco, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, questioned whether Kimbrough was the right man for the job.
"The goal should be to get someone who is truly independent ... to give us an investigative report with unquestioned integrity," Dunnam said.
Kimbrough in 2003 headed the manhunt for Democratic House members when they went to Ardmore, Okla., to break a quorum during debate on congressional redistricting legislation.
- State Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, filed a bill mandating the agency be placed in conservatorship, arguing that the rehabilitation plan was akin to sending accountants to investigate sexual abuse. Dunnam said he intended to press for a vote Monday by the full House on his bill, which garnered quick support Friday from several dozen members before Perry announced his plan.
- Rep. Tommy Merritt, R-Longview, Dunnam and other lawmakers called for the immediate assignment of Texas Rangers to each Youth Commission facility to ensure that children are protected from abuse and that coercion of potential witnesses in the investigation does not occur, and to protect agency records from destruction. Black said Perry is confident his Friday orders will accomplish the same goal.
- Concerned that a cover-up might be under way, as officials moved to protect themselves from the widening criminal investigation, House Speaker Pro Tem Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, demanded in a letter that the Youth Commission ensure that all records be kept intact. "Any reports I receive indicating that the staff at the Texas Youth Commission are removing or destroying documents will be dealt with immediately," Turner stated in his letter to Owens, who was named Thursday to temporarily run the agency. Within hours, a confidential e-mail from Deputy Executive Director Linda Reyes ordered all Youth Commission employees to "please refrain from any document shredding until further notice."
- Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, on Friday named 14 lawmakers, seven from each chamber, to a special investigating committee. Staff aides were poised to begin subpoenaing officials and documents as early as Monday, in time for Capitol hearings later in the week.
The rapid-fire actions came as political haggling about a resolution threatened to delay an official response.
Participants in the meetings said Perry was adamant that he wanted leeway to solve the problem -- not through a conservatorship. He remained upset by a Wednesday vote for conservatorship by the Senate, just after he had fired the Youth Commission board chairman and recommended Owens be hired to replace Youth Commission employee Neil Nichols as the acting agency head.