Thursday, August 09, 2001

Probation chief calls it quits

5 months after hire, job open again

By Marie McCain
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Hamilton County's judges are once again searching for someone to head the probation department.

        Edward Jay Heitz quit Wednesday after five months on the job, making him the second person to leave the position in just over a year.

        He could not be reached for comment.

        His departure reopens old wounds for a department that has been plagued with morale problems and power struggles.

        “He wants to do other things,” Hamilton County Court Administrator Mike Walton said Wednesday. “He was here for five months. I am very thankful for that time. He helped point the probation department in new directions and strengthened it.”

        Mr. Heitz took over after the traumatic departure of Michael Snowden, a former Cincinnati police chief who clashed with rank-and-file probation officers — and some judges — over changes he was making.

        The judges took seven months — two months longer than Mr. Heitz's tenure — before approving a replacement for Mr. Snowden. They choose from four applicants.

        There's no telling how long it will take to find Mr. Heitz's replacement.

        “We'll have to decide if we want to search nationally, in the Midwest, statewide or locally,” said Mr. Walton, who will take over the post in the interim. “I don't expect to see something until after the first of the year.”

        Court officials learned last week that Mr. Heitz had been considering resigning and had hoped to find a way to keep him.

        However, on Wednesday after a two-hour meeting with Mr. Walton, the former federal probation officer quit. His resignation was effective immediately.

        Unlike Mr. Snowden's departure, Mr. Heitz's decision did not come after a conflict with the judges or with probation officers, Mr. Walton said.

        Judges recently approved Mr. Heitz's request to end a testing system that required offenders to undergo three urine tests a week during their first two months on probation. The number of tests tapered off in later months as long as the person continued to test negative for illegal substances.

        Both sides agreed that a return to random testing would be sufficient and more feasible.

        The uniform testing had been done to ensure that probation officers complied with court orders to conduct drug tests on criminals.

        Last year, an internal audit revealed that probation officers routinely ignored judges' orders to conduct such tests. An investigation led to the disciplining of 14 officers and supervisors who failed to follow court orders.

        Judges learned of Mr. Heitz's resignation Wednesday through a memo circulated by Mr. Walton.

        Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Thomas H. Crush called Mr. Heitz's resignation “frustrating” considering the turnover the position has had in such a short time.

        “I thought Mr. Heitz was doing a good job and from what I heard no one had any big gripes against him,” Judge Crush said. “It is a difficult position. You have to deal with 31 judges (both Common Pleas and Municipal) and no matter what you do, there will always be somebody who dissents.”

        Hamilton County Municipal Judge Nadine Allen said she learned of Mr. Heitz's resignation late Wednesday when she signed an entry that named Mr. Walton as interim chief probation officer.

        “I don't know why he left,” she said of Mr. Heitz. “And I'm not sure what this will mean” for the probation department.


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