AUSTIN - Questions are being raised about who is running the state's embattled Office of Violent Sex Offender Management since the presiding officer has resigned while two other top agency leaders are on leave, according to a published report Friday.
The Houston Chronicle reports that executive director Allison Taylor and program manager Deborah Morgan are on leave. Word that the two have left their jobs comes days after the office's volunteer board chairman, Dan Powers, resigned. He said the workload was too heavy for a volunteer.
Agency general counsel Celeste Blackburn confirmed that Taylor is on leave until next Thursday. It's unclear how long Morgan will be gone.
Taylor and Morgan didn't return calls seeking comment. In the meantime, five lower-level supervisors are managing agency operations.
Gov. Rick Perry's chief of staff, Kathy Walt, wouldn't give specifics but told the newspaper that her office is "moving to address the leadership vacuum at this agency." She said this is the latest in a series of concerns about the agency, including its past secretive placement of violent sex offenders and little advance notification to community residents and legislative leaders.
All high-risk sex offenders in the program have served prison sentences but are kept in custody under a civil commitment program because they are deemed too dangerous to return to society. There are about 350 offenders being held in civil commitment, with roughly half in prison and the rest in halfway houses and jails statewide.
But there is also some evidence that many of the agency's 24 employees, including Taylor, might work from home.
A copy of an employee list obtained by the Chronicle shows that employees work at four offices in Austin, Conroe, Arlington and El Paso in offices shared with offices of Department of State Health Services. Calls to the Austin headquarters, though, often go to voicemail.
State Sen. John Whitmire, a Democrat who chairs the chamber's Criminal Justice Committee, has asked the state auditor's office and a state unit that prosecutes official corruption to examine questionable contracts for housing offenders.
"At an agency that deals with the worst of the worst, an agency that appears to have been out of control for some time with its bad decisions, having the top positions vacant or on leave is not in the public interest," Whitmire said.
The agency previously has been criticized for relocating more than two dozen high-risk offenders into north Houston boarding home without any advance notice to neighbors or lawmakers who represent the area, which is customary.
After a public outcry, officials moved the offenders back to a minimum-security halfway house in east Harris County, which had previously demanded their remove because of security and operational concerns.