Anyone paying attention to Kim Ogg’s recent election as the Harris County District Attorney should not be surprised by her announcement that she is not retaining the services of many long time employees of the office.
“Throughout the campaign, I promised Harris County an evidence-based approach to our criminal justice system,” said DA-Elect Ogg. “This transition process is no different—decisions are being made based on what is best to assure Harris County is a safe and just place for all families. I would like to thank all HCDAO employees for their service to the public.”
I put the word ‘just’ in bold so that people who are freaking out can remember what this election was about. I’m confident that outgoing HCDA Devon Anderson doesn’t get it. Brian Rogers has her reaction in the Houston Chronicle:
The timing of the release, however, gave Anderson an opportunity to take a shot at her successor, releasing a statement that the new administration “fired by email 37 experienced prosecutors 9 days before Christmas.”
“With her first act as District Attorney, Ogg is endangering the citizens of Harris County,” Anderson said. “The dedicated prosecutors let go today had a combined 685 years of service.”
Ogg swiped back, noting that Anderson had refused to meet with her until Friday.
“The announcement by the current administration that this somehow makes people less safe is irresponsible,” Ogg said. “‘This decision does not make people less safe. It’s simply a change in management. The business of the DA’s office will go on.”
The idea that Harris County citizens are ‘endangered’ by these staff changes is silly. As Ogg noted, the business of the office will go on. Ogg promised change and this is the first step in that process.
I’ll give Ogg’s critics one point – the way the notices came down was not handled well or properly. As someone who has had to deliver this type of news to employees (and had it delivered to me), you use a couple of basic HR techniques. First, you do it on a Monday morning, so that the employees aren’t sitting around on a weekend thinking about it. Remember, most places, other than bars, are closed on weekends. The last place you want these guys to be is sitting in a bar lamenting their situation. You want them to immediately start planning the next step. Second, you don’t do it by email. Good grief. That sucks, Kim.
Beyond that HR failure, there really isn’t anything to whine about. Before Christmas? Hey, that’s better than after Christmas. At least you can curb your gift giving if you need to. And for those claiming that the office will be decimated by releasing these employees at the end of the year, you aren’t giving Devon Anderson much credit for running an organization, are you? You know, one that has trained people ready to step up? The office will be fine.
The biggest obstacle that Ogg faces in changing the culture at the office is from within. Kim Ogg needed to do a mass purge like this if she is going to be successful at the reforms that she has promised to initiate. Some of the old timers, those people wishing that Johnny Holmes was still around, point out that Pat Lykos came in and didn’t turn over this much of the staff. Well, there you go – there is your answer as to why Ogg had to do it this way. Lykos started many reforms but she had to fight every step of the way, pushing uphill, precisely because she did not get rid of enough of the old timers. And ultimately, she failed because of the “mutiny” at the office. Clearly Ogg learned a lesson from Lykos’ experience and decided the best way to stop a “mutiny” was a preemptive strike.
It is possible that some of the people on Ogg’s list do not deserve to be there. Evaluating talent is more of an art than a science and you have to make the best decisions you can with limited data. Waiting a year and watching each employee, then evaluating them only delays implementing the reforms that many of us demand. Life isn’t fair but good attorneys will find many other opportunities to ply their trade. The bad attorneys, well, they can put ads on the back of The Greensheet and hope for the best. Or they can use this opportunity to improve and become good attorneys.
Kim Ogg will be judged in 2020 by the same voters that put her into office. Four years seems like a long time but it takes time to implement true reform and she needs every single day if she is going to succeed. And I’m rooting for her to succeed because we’ll all be better off if she does. If she fails, then I have no doubt that one or more of the employees that she has chosen not to retain will be ready, willing and able to defeat her in the next election. It is a good sign that in her first action, she didn’t worry about that and decided to do what she thinks is the best thing to achieve her reforms.