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New probation commissioner lauded for integrity

Edward J. Dolan, a self-described “policy wonk” lauded for his integrity, will be the next Commissioner of Probation for Massachusetts, leading a department reeling from a widespread patronage scandal.

Dolan, the current commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Youth Services, will have to rebuild public confidence in an agency that for years hired politically connected job applicants whether they were the most qualified or not. A 2010 Globe Spotlight investigation detailed extensive cronyism and disregard for merit in hiring and promotion in the department.

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Dolan will succeed John J. O’Brien, who faces a federal indictment charging him with 17 counts of bribery for allegedly handing out jobs to the friends, family, and supporters of state legislators in exchange for political favors. O’Brien resigned in 2010 and acting commissioners have subsequently led the organization.

“We need to regain the public’s trust,” Dolan said in an interview.

The chief justice of the Trial Court, Robert A. Mulligan, who helped pick Dolan, praised his “impeccable integrity.”

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“He’s as clean as a hound’s tooth,” Mulligan said.

A 59-year-old Peabody resident, Dolan has worked at the Department of Youth Services since 1997. Before that, he served as the executive director of the state parole board.

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Mulligan said Dolan’s experience working in and helping to steady organizations in turmoil was a key part of why they hired him. “Probation is still in a transition period and he has worked at the parole board, an agency at the time that needed some turnaround, and the same with DYS,” Mulligan said.

He praised Dolan’s temperament as right for the position, calling him “very low-key” and “very thoughtful.”

Dolan declined to discuss the scandal Thursday. Instead, he praised the two acting commissioners who have led the department since O’Brien and said he was “forward focused.”

He acknowledged there a lot of work to do as soon as he begins his five-year term on June 10. Many senior leadership positions in the department remain vacant and filling them will be one of the new commissioner’s first tasks.

“As a result of all of the controversy and the scandal, there have been a lot of people in senior leadership positions . . . that have been transitioned out of the Probation Department,” he said.

Dolan said that means his first task will be to create a strong administrative team.

Though politics loomed large in the scandal, Dolan said he is not a political person. He is unenrolled with either party and his biggest involvement in politics is going to the voting booth on election day, he said.

“He’s apolitical,” Mulligan said.

People who have closely watched the Probation Department controversy said Dolan was a good pick.

“This is a real quality appointment — strong managerial background in criminal justice, experience with the Legislature, a reputation for integrity,” said former state attorney general Scott Harshbarger, who chaired a task force focused on reforming the department.

“I think it’s fantastic,” said Len Engel, the managing associate for policy at the Crime and Justice Institute, a nonpartisan group.

“Ed is very qualified, one of the top criminal justice reform minded people in the state and in the country,” said Engel.

“He’s got the energy and integrity to move us forward,” said David J. Holway, the president of the National Association of Government Employees, which represents over 1,000 probation officers in Massachusetts.

Holway said everyone he had spoken with about Dolan’s appointment was “quite happy.”

The Massachusetts Bar Association also cheered the appointment.

The naming of the new commissioner caught many probation employees by surprise, in part because the administrative office of the Trial Court had hired a firm to conduct a nationwide search. In they end, however, they picked a member of the Patrick administration.

Dolan said he had met with chief probation officers as a group and had been making phone calls to other people in the department.

“My focus is really on organizational development,” Dolan said, “and that’s going to take a while.”

Scott Allen of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Joshua Miller can be reached at joshua.miller@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jm_bos.
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