An interim administrator is now in place at the Ellis County Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Program, with the announcement Tuesday that administrator Darrin Robinson is no longer employed by the county. The JJAEP, which operates under the county’s juvenile services program, provides educational and other services for those youth who are unable to attend public school due to the nature of their offenses.
An undercurrent of troubles within the JJAEP had spilled out into public view during Monday’s emergency meeting of the Ellis County Juvenile Justice Board. That meeting had been requested by Robinson, who delivered a list of complaints while also interrupting and attempting to talk on top of board co-chair, District Judge William Wallace. At another point, Robinson snapped at the other board co-chair, District Judge Cindy Ermatinger, saying, “How would you know?”
After the board voted against implementing Robinson’s requests, he exited the meeting before returning a few minutes later to sit in the audience. His requests had included moving JJAEP’s in-person educational services for the troubled youth it serves to fully online for an indeterminate amount of time. In lieu of that, he wanted to move the JJAEP and its students to TSTC’s Red Oak campus, where he said he’d been offered use of that higher education facility’s conference room.
Currently, JJAEP is housed at the county’s juvenile services offices, which are located on the county farm. The JJAEP, which started up its in-person program in September 2021, is set to move into an adjoining addition there that’s been under construction since the summer 2021 and is set for completion within the next several weeks.
Robinson, who was hired in May 2021 at a salary of $94,000 to lead the JJAEP, railed on both his physical and work environment, citing the physical as “unsafe” and the latter as “toxic.” He described all of it as a “five alarm fire” and told the judges that Ellis County’s juvenile services held the reputation as “worst” in the entire state.
The juvenile board is comprised of the county’s six judicial judges and the county judge. Besides co-chairs Wallace and Ermatinger, also serving on the board are County Courts at Law Judges Gene Calvert, Jim Chapman and Joe Gallo; District Judge Bob Carroll; and County Judge Todd Little
Having at some point been granted a state waiver to create a JJAEP, Ellis County had delayed opening one until it couldn’t wait any longer. After his hiring, Robinson then hired an additional four people for the JJAEP, which was expected to serve up to 24 students but, based on information that’s been available to the Sun, has seemed to hover around the four-student mark, even with all 10 public school districts having signed a memorandum of understanding to participate.
Concurrent with Robinson’s hiring, the county began construction on an addition to the existing juvenile offices/facility at the county farm. The first semester of services, to include in-person classes for the JJAEP youth, began in September 2021 in set-aside space at the juvenile offices/facility that has included a conference room repurposed as a classroom, a break room, and an extra space that’s also seen use as a courtroom.
During Monday’s meeting, Robinson complained he hadn’t had input nor had been kept informed about the new facility, which he said wasn’t enough to meet the growth and, overall, JJAEP would need to spend more money.
During his remarks, Robinson commented that his life had led him to one of service to the community – and that included his having run for Waxahachie City Council in the spring 2021. It was during that campaign – and prior to his being hired as administrator of the county’s JJAEP – that he slapped a tablet out of Waxahachie Sun publisher Scott Brooks’ hands after Robinson took offense to a question during a campaign interview. That incident was captured on video, with the interview ending because Robinson then stormed from the room. The Sun was later told those involved in Robinson’s hiring at the county, which occurred shortly thereafter, were unaware of the incident and video, which had been posted on the Sun’s YouTube channel and website.
During Monday’s meeting, the board also heard from several county officials who went to Juvenile Services to see for themselves if there was basis for Robinson’s complaints. They reported back there was no safety issue because the construction area is kept secured behind a door that’s locked at all times.
“There is no reason for any student to be back in that area,” a district attorney’s office representative said.
With the physical environment concern addressed, Wallace asked about the work environment, with Robinson saying it involved his supervisor, Juvenile Services Chief Chelsea Smith, and that other staff members were afraid to speak out. Wallace said the path for such an issue was to file a complaint with the county’s Human Resources Department so concerns could be looked into and investigated.
During the summer, the board had held a lengthy meeting comprised mostly of a closed, executive session relating to dissension between Smith and Robinson. Ultimately, the board affirmed that Robinson reported to Smith. The board also established that Smith and Robinson would meet in-person weekly together with Wallace and Ermatinger through at least the end of the year so everyone could be on the same page.
During Monday’s meeting, Ermatinger noted the number of Robinson’s absences from those weekly meetings with the latter retorting he hadn’t missed that many – and when he missed it was because his staff was out, and he was the only one left to supervise the students.
With Robinson’s departure from the county, Smith told the Sun that Juvenile Services Deputy Chief Marvin Mitchell will serve as interim administrator of the JJAEP until further notice.