Commission creates new position for chief probation officer

The Augusta Commission voted Tuesday to create a new position at Richmond County Correctional Institute for Marie Boulton, the chief misdemeanor probation officer asked to resign by new Chief State Court Judge David Watkins. FILE

The Augusta Commission voted Tuesday to create a new position, prison warden, for Chief Probation Officer Marie Boulton, but questions remain about why Chief State Court Judge David Watkins had asked her to resign, and how the misdemeanor probation office will continue to operate.

 

Commissioner Marion Williams said Watkins’ explanation behind closed doors Tuesday was limited to the issues he had with Boulton, who held the position for about a year until Chief Judge Richard Slaby retired last month. But it was clear Boulton was not Watkins’ preference, he said.

“It wasn’t going to ever work with them working together,” Williams said.

Watkins said earlier the closed-door session with commissioners had been “exhaustive” and “appropriate” but would not comment on the personnel decision. He left before the commission voted to transfer Boulton to the new position.

Commissioner Sammie Sias made motions to reinstate the position of deputy warden at Richmond County Correctional Institute and settle all claims with Boulton in exchange for her taking the job, with a salary of $79,500. RCCI houses state prisoners who perform work details around Augusta.

Both motions passed 7-3. Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle, who with Commissioner Sean Frantom opposed both, said adding a position eliminated in a 2012 reorganization was excessive.

“Somehow it manufactured itself for this one person,” Guilfoyle said.

Boulton was handpicked by Slaby to serve as the office’s first chief probation officer in a program created to replace Sentinel Offender Services, a private probation company that was beset with numerous civil rights lawsuits for its treatment of probationers.

Her personnel file, obtained by The Augusta Chronicle, included no negative performance reviews but detailed a 25-year career in South Carolina probation and parole services in positions of increasing responsibility.

The Richmond County Probation Office was modeled closely on nine-year-old Athens-Clarke County Probation Services. Athens Chief Probation Officer Dale Allen mentored Boulton and worked closely with Slaby and city officials to develop the program.

Allen said Monday he’d been impressed by the “vision, compassion and commitment” shown by Boulton and Slaby and wished Augusta’s program the best in the days ahead.

Evolving Georgia probation laws allow local governments to either contract with a private entity for probation services or create a service plan. Augusta’s program hit a hiccup last year when several probation officers were unable to obtain state certification as police officers with arrest powers, a requirement of the Richmond County program, but most, including Boulton, had since obtained the certification, required to make arrests.

The office of mostly certified officers now creates a further wrinkle as they require a certified chief officer and Boulton is no longer there.

The commissioners said Watkins, to whom the chief officer reports, did not say who he wants to lead the office.

 

Reach Susan McCord at (706) 823-3215 or susan.mccord@augustachronicle.com.

 

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