Saturday, July 08, 2000

Judges move to end probation office dispute




By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Hamilton County judges vowed Friday to get more involved in some of the changes taking place at the probation department. They didn't waste any time proving it.

        After announcing their decision, the judges arranged for the transfer of a top employee in the department and ordered the chief probation officer to talk to them before making more changes.

        “The idea is to get the judges more involved with strategic planning,” said Court Administrator Mike Walton. “I think we need to slow down the change process.”

        The judges' announcement ended a weeklong dispute over the policies of Chief Probation Officer Michael Snowden.

        The controversy erupted last week when dozens of probation officers met with judges to complain about changes Mr. Snowden has made during the past year.

        The main issue is a $690,000 report that recommended making the officers more accountable to their supervisors.

        The officers have complained that the new standards are too restrictive and time consuming.

        Mr. Snowden, a former Cincinnati police chief, said the standards are needed to make the department more efficient.

        “I'm confident I had the full support of the judges,” Mr. Snowden said Friday. “We're going to institute some better communication methods.”

        Communication has been a problem for the past week. The officers complained to the judges. Mr. Snowden complained publicly about the officers' attitude.

        And the judges, who oversee the department, met privately with each other to discuss their next move.

        After a week of meetings, the judges decided their first move would be the transfer of Michael Hopper, a recent hire in the department, to the court administrator's office.

        Mr. Hopper had been the focus of controversy at the department because part of his job as a quality control specialist was to perform background checks on probation officers.

        Mr. Snowden said Mr. Hopper was a valuable employee, but he agreed with the judges' decision.

        “The judges want us to try something different,” Mr. Snowden said. “I think we can make it work.”

        The judges who attended the closed-door meetings this week have declined to comment about their discussions. But Mr. Walton said Mr. Snowden was never in jeopardy of losing his job.

        After the meeting Friday, Mr. Walton met with Mr. Snowden and several probation officers to discuss ways to ease the tension. The officers declined comment, but Mr. Snowden was optimistic.

        The changes made by Mr. Snowden include the addition of time clocks, mandatory morning meetings and the creation of a new computer database to replace paper files.

        With time, Mr. Snowden said, he thinks his 240 employees will embrace the changes.

        “We've got a lot of new things going on,” he said. “It's going to take some time and it's going to take some work.”

       



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