The Augusta Commission heads into unfamiliar territory as it considers, based on alleged personnel issues, severing ties between the new Richmond County Probation Office and new Chief State Court Judge David Watkins.
The misdemeanor probation office opened in July 2016 to replace private provider Sentinel Offender Services, a firm beset with lawsuits for jailing probationers for not paying supervision fees. With then-Chief State Court Judge Richard Slaby leading an effort to develop a local office, last year the Augusta Commission approved opening one, with the chief probation officer reporting to the chief judge.
The office had personnel issues from the start after including a requirement that probation officers be certified Georgia law enforcement officers. Several new hires, including Chief Probation Officer Marie Boulton, a former South Carolina officer without Georgia arrest powers, had to attend the Georgia police academy and pass Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training requirements.
According to POST, Bolton and all but one of 14 other probation officers listed on the city’s roster from May are currently POST-certified.
But last week, acting on allegations of personnel issues involving Watkins acting in the new role of chief judge he starts Tuesday, Commissioner Marion Williams put a request to pull the probation office out from under state court on Tuesday’s commission meeting agenda.
Williams said Monday he was still waiting to learn Watkins’ explanation about the personnel issues, and that an earlier meeting had yielded what Williams said were minor complaints about office practices.
Watkins did not return a Monday request for comment.
Misdemeanor probation can’t easily break away from the judges that sentence probationers, however. Now under the Georgia Department of Community Supervision, the offices are required to have the chief judge’s signature on any service agreement with a provider, in addition to the county administrator’s, said Rachael Peters, director of public affairs for the Department of Community Supervision.
Each office is required to submit quarterly reports showing the number of cases, amount of fines collected and other data, and DCS requires even new offices get in compliance fairly quickly or be penalized, Peters said.
Commissioner Dennis Williams, who as commission public safety chairman has a role in the office’s operation, said he’d like to see the matter referred to an upcoming public safety committee meeting. He said Watkins might desire to make adjustments as new chief judge, but Williams said he does not expect a return to private probation or the hire of additional former Sentinel employees.
“There’s nothing that residents or employees of Augusta can’t do that a private contractor can do,” Williams said.
The probation item appears on the commission’s action agenda Tuesday. Other items up for commission discussion and action Tuesday include:
- Hiring three new assistant district attorneys using existing funds. The ADAs were approved by two commission committees last week but a third, administrative services, had no recommendation
- A discussion of allegations that city garbage hauler subcontractors have abused their roles, requested by Commissioner Sean Frantom
- Adopting a tentative millage rate of 9.786 mils, a .008-mill decrease from last year expected to generate $720,648 less revenue after Augusta’s taxable digest of real, personal, mobile home and other property posted an adjusted net decrease of about $70 million. The decrease was attributed to the loss of several large manufacturers or their inventory from the tax rolls
Reach Susan McCord at (706) 823-3215 or firstname.lastname@example.org.