Change Coming Slowly to MA Probation Agency After Patronage Scandal


Almost three years after the Massachusetts Probation Department patronage scandal swept longtime Commissioner John O'Brien and most of his deputies out of their jobs, the agency is being run by people who bucked his unfair hiring system, reports the Boston Globe. Ellen Slaney, now acting commissioner, spent years in internal exile after she opposed her former boss's recommendation to hire an admitted felon whose father was a state senator. Change does not come easily or quickly, and these new leaders are still trying to erase the legacy of cronyism, secrecy, and ineptitude from 12 years under O'Brien, who is facing opening arguments today in the first of two criminal trials. The new probation leaders have received praise for dismantling patronage programs, retraining officers, and — most significantly — overhauling the hiring process to give people without connections a chance, making the workforce more diverse in the process. None of the 29 chief probation officers hired in the last two years had a politician's endorsement on file. Yet some employees are discouraged by the pace of change as they wait for Chief Justice for Administration Robert Mulligan to name a permanent commissioner to succeed Slaney this spring. The department is still haunted by problems that festered under O'Brien. “People with connections are still getting the jobs over the people who don't have connections,” said one employee. Several colleagues echoed that sentiment in interviews with the Globe.

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