Thursday, July 21, 2005

DMN Editorial:Dallas County Jail

It's Time to Step Up: Sheriff Valdez is managing, but can she lead?

08:23 AM CDT on Thursday, July 21, 2005

DALLAS MORNING NEWS EDITORIAL

The editorial board hadn't met with Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez since she took office in January. Meanwhile, the chronically mismanaged jail, which she runs, keeps making the kind of headlines no public official likes to see. So we invited her to sit down for a conversation about the job and its challenges.

She laid out what sounded like a solid plan of action for her troubled department – but without completely allaying suspicions that she lacks something vital in the way of forcefulness. Humility is a wonderful quality in a leader, as long as it's balanced by a clear vision, decisiveness and the ability to inspire. As to whether Sheriff Valdez combines all those attributes, the jury is still out.

She startled us early in the conversation by remarking that she hasn't involved herself much in the discussion of which contractor should provide health care in the jail. That, she said, is a matter for the county commissioners to decide; her job is merely to work with whatever agency they pick.

Perhaps she's right, but if you were going to have to work closely with someone on something as complex and difficult as meshing good medicine and good security, wouldn't you want a say in the choice? The sheriff and her staff will suffer if the commissioners flub the decision again. The staffers will suffer in their ability to do their jobs; the sheriff will suffer politically.

On the plus side, Sheriff Valdez seems to have made real strides in the nuts-and-bolts organization-building that is crucial to the department's long-term success. She's overseen a complete rewrite of outdated policies and procedures. She persuaded the commissioners to let her hire two additional assistant chiefs, so that critical areas such as the jail and law enforcement will have adequate management from the top. And she says she's laid out "very direct lines of accountability."

Even more than most elected officials, the sheriff must be both a leader and a manager. Sheriff Valdez seems at home in the role of manager. For the sake of county residents, taxpayers, her department's employees and the people who wind up in jail, we hope she also blossoms as a leader.

David Finn

3 Comments:

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