TYC: Kimbrough now conservator

Jay Kimbrough has been named conservator of the Texas Youth Commission, nearly a month after the Lege urged Governor Perry to name someone to that post.

Mr. Kimbrough took the reins with ease, vowing to force all superintendents and many high-level agency officials to reapply for their jobs. He said TYC Executive Director Ed Owens would report to him.

“This provides me with the authority to take immediate action and I will,” Mr. Kimbrough said. “I am the conservator; I am the person who drives the ship at that agency.”

The deal, announced by Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, and House Speaker Tom Craddick, has the support of the key lawmakers with oversight over the TYC.

“We’re going to fix an agency that’s broken,” Mr. Perry said.

These lawmakers have been crafting a broad bill to overhaul the juvenile justice agency – legislation they’re now designing to include the commissioner and advisory board provision.

The compromise weaves together the governor’s proposal to appoint a commissioner over the agency and lawmakers’ concerns that as special master, Mr. Kimbrough didn’t have constitutional authority to investigate and reform the agency.

“This is a giant step in reforming the TYC,” said Sen. John Whitmire, the Houston Democrat who chairs the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. “It also demonstrates we’re all on the same team.”

Well, more or less. Rep. Jim Dunnam isn’t too impressed. Here’s what he had to say, from his press release:

After a month of foot dragging, I am pleased that Governor Perry finally understands the need to appoint a Conservator over TYC. Unfortunately, the Governor still does not recognize that the Conservator must be independent and autonomous. Perry’s decision to appoint his long time friend and insider, Jay Kimbrough, provides the public with a clear understanding that the Governor has no interest in really getting to the bottom of what really went wrong at TYC and who allowed it to happen.

The victims of these horrible crimes deserve someone who has absolutely no ties to any of the players in the TYC scandal. The public needs to be able to trust the integrity of the investigation, and there should be no appearance of cover-up or inside dealing.

Mr. Kimbrough was a senior administrator at the Governor’s office when TYC issues were being disclosed to that very office. Mr. Kimbrough was also a senior administrator with the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) when that office was made aware of sex abuse at TYC.

Mr. Kimbrough not only is the ultimate inside player, he has been richly rewarded for his close ties to Governor Perry, something that would lead the public to believe that any wrongdoing in the Governor’s or Attorney General’s offices would not be top priorities for Kimbrough to investigate. Mr. Kimbrough has been paid almost $800,000 by the State of Texas just since 2002. Kimbrough was being paid by the Governor when Perry’s office first learned of the Ranger investigation. Kimbrough was with the Governor when his office learned that prosecutions were not moving forward. Kimbrough was with the OAG when that office, through one of Kimbrough’s subordinates, learned of the Ranger’s report. In short, Kimbrough’s employment has followed almost the same path as the revelations. For him now to be charged to investigate who knew what and when is directly in conflict with the independence a conservator and TYC need.

I would urge the Governor to do what has been asked of him for the last month–appoint an independent and qualified conservator so there will be full public confidence in the results of the TYC investigations.

Vince has more on this, including a Dunnam-provided timeline of Kimbrough and the TYC.

Elsewhere, the Observer blog has two posts on the joint TYC hearings, which got a little testy at times – see the comments in this Grits post for more on that. Grits also discusses the new no-felon policy for TYC, whose predecessor I discussed before here.

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