Almost three years after the Massachusetts Probation Department patronage scandal swept longtime Commissioner John J. O’Brien and most of his deputies out of their jobs, the agency is being run by people who bucked his unfair hiring system.
Ellen J. Slaney, now the acting commissioner, spent years in internal exile after she opposed her former boss’s recommendation to hire an admitted felon whose father was a state senator. Her top aide, Edward Dalton, still has the voicemail threatening him with the loss of his job if he didn’t go along with O’Brien’s hiring wishes.
But change does not come easily or quickly, and these new leaders are still trying to erase the legacy of cronyism, secrecy, and ineptitude from 12 years under O’Brien, who is facing opening arguments Thursday in the first of two criminal trials.
The new probation leaders have received praise for dismantling patronage programs, retraining officers, and — most significantly — overhauling the hiring process to give people without connections a chance, making the workforce more diverse in the process. None of the 29 chief probation officers hired in the last two years had a politician’s endorsement on file, a striking contrast to O’Brien’s tenure.
“I hope others see that we’re back on track and moving forward,” said Slaney, who in January became the first woman commissioner in probation’s 141-year history. “Honestly, the scandal was a very painful experience for the whole service. These are well-educated, accomplished people who have been embarrassed.”
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