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Alameda County leaders have chosen a veteran San Diego County administrator to head a probation department that has frequently been rattled by controversy. Tuesday’s appointment of Donald Blevins, a 27-year veteran of San Diego’s probation department, ends a national search to replace Sylvia Johnson, the controversial chief probation officer who retired in January. Since her departure, Wayne Tucker, an assistant sheriff who temporarily resigned from his post, has been leading the department. Blevins did not return calls for comment on Tuesday, and a spokesman for the San Diego probation department said Blevins would not publicly comment on the appointment until today. However, in a board of supervisors’ press release Blevins said he was “committed to working closely with the community and staff to successfully address the challenges facing the probation department.” Blevins’ breadth of experience separated him from the pack, said Gail Steele, president of the Board of Supervisors. “He has worked in all aspects of probation,” said Steele, who was often critical of the former probation chief. Blevins, 51, joined the San Diego County probation department in 1976 as a probation officer and rose to director of adult field services in 2000. He is experienced in both adult and juvenile probation issues, Steele said. Blevins will lead a department with a $72 million budget and 750 employees. The department oversees 20,000 adults who are either on probation or in diversion programs, and 3,400 juveniles, according to probation spokeswoman Nina Ramsey. It also operates the county juvenile hall in San Leandro. Blevins, whose appointment comes as the department copes with deep county budget cutbacks, will probably play a key role in plans for a new juvenile hall. He will earn an annual salary of $125,000. Blevins’ predecessor, Johnson, attracted both powerful supporters, who lauded her for substantial improvements to the department, and critics, who blamed her divisive management style for departures and other problems. In fact, Steele led efforts to ensure that Johnson’s successor could be hired and fired by the supervisors. Before Measure C passed in November, both the court and the county oversaw the chief probation officer. Even choosing Johnson’s interim replacement proved controversial. Initially county leaders asked Sheriff Charles Plummer to take the post. County supervisors scuttled that idea after the superior court presiding judge, juvenile court presiding judge and local attorneys argued that the arrangement would create a conflict of interest. Tucker, the sheriff’s chief assistant, agreed to temporarily resign from his post to lead the probation department until a permanent replacement could be hired. The county hired Sacramento’s Shannon Executive Search to lead a national search. A panel of county officials, including Juvenile Court Presiding Judge Brenda Harbin-Forte and Judge Richard Iglehart, who died last week, vetted a pool of applicants. The top two candidates were Blevins and William Siffermann, the deputy director of juvenile probation and court services in Cook County, Ill., according to Steele and other sources. The county supervisors announced Blevins appointment on Tuesday afternoon.

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