AUSTIN — Under pressure from the Legislature, Gov. Rick Perry announced Wednesday the Texas Youth Commission board will resign amid new criminal allegations involving TYC staff and revelations that the juvenile corrections health care system is in shambles.
Perry and the Legislature are battling over how to rebuild an agency with high staff turnover and accusations that corrections officers and administrators have physically and sexually abused youths in their custody.
The Senate and House overwhelmingly sent a message to Perry that the Legislature wants the TYC governing board members replaced with a new board that will oversee rebuilding the agency.
The Senate voted 30-0 to send a bill to the House that would abolish the current TYC board that has overseen the agency's fall into disarray.
TYC officials on Wednesday were trying to figure out how a former adult corrections system guard managed to land a job as a TYC corrections officer while under investigation for sexually assaulting a male inmate on his former job.
Texas Department of Criminal Justice Inspector General John Moriarty told a special joint legislative committee that TYC would have found out about the investigation if the agency had contacted TDCJ on a background check.
Barry Ransberger, 49, was arrested Wednesday on charges that he sexually abused a prison inmate.
He left the adult system in November 2005. He resigned from TYC last October, citing a conflict with a supervisor.
There also were revelations Wednesday that the whistleblower who originally reported that two male administrators at the West Texas State School were sexually abusing boys in their care had his own criminal past.
Volunteer math tutor Marc Slattery, who called Texas Rangers to report the abuse in 2005, apparently had been indicted in 1986 on sexual assault charges but pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of simple assault, Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, told the select committee. Slattery could not be reached for comment.
Whitmire questioned how TYC could have allowed someone with a criminal record to serve as a volunteer at one of the state's youth facilities.
Also, Jefferson County authorities arrested Alex Dennis, 34, a juvenile corrections officer at the Al Price Unit in Beaumont. Dennis is accused of biting a youth in December during a disciplinary skirmish.
TYC originally closed the case with administrative discipline of the officer, but a special master's investigative team reopened the case and brought charges.
Meanwhile, University of Texas Medical Branch Vice President Dr. Ben Raimer told a joint legislative committee that there are so many problems in the TYC system that UTMB has been trying to get out of its contract.
Raimer said the nursing staff that works at TYC units has an annual turnover rate of 32 percent.
"When you have student riots everywhere, the staff does not feel safe," Raimer said. "They're only going to take threats and insults and feces thrown at them for so long before they walk out and leave."
The Senate bill would establish a new civilian oversight board, but prohibit Perry from reappointing any of the current board members.
The House cast a 142-0 procedural vote to allow the companion bill to be filed past the deadline for new legislation to be introduced.
Perry's staff then announced the board will resign Friday but only after voting on an agency rehabilitation plan. Perry also said he wants the civilian oversight board replaced with a single commissioner who answers to the governor.
Senate and House corrections leaders immediately said it is "outrageous" that Perry would allow the board that ignored the growing crisis to vote on the plan to fix the agency. They also rejected the idea of a single commissioner running the youth commission.
House Corrections Chairman Jerry Madden, R-Richardson; Sen. Chris Harris, R-Arlington, sponsor of the board elimination bill; and Whitmire, who heads the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, all rejected Perry's idea of a single commissioner.
They also said they could not support having the current board vote on the rehabilitation plan.