Head of parole division resigns

CARSON CITY — State Division of Parole and Probation chief John Gonska announced his resignation Monday, just 25 days after a legislative audit uncovered numerous problems at his agency.

In a letter, Gonska said he was quitting because the travel demands of the job prevented him from spending enough time with his family.

He had been chief of the agency for the past four years and previously spent 20 years with the U.S. Probation Office, including 17 years in Nevada.

He did not return a call seeking comment Monday.

In response to questions, Gov. Jim Gibbons said late Monday that he did not fire Gonska. But he added: “I am very comfortable with his personal decision.”

Gibbons said problems with the Division of Parole and Probation were uncovered not only by a February audit, but also by an earlier audit conducted by the Legislature.

New ideas and new personnel might be needed for the division to make improvements, the governor added.

Gonska came under fire Feb. 29 when a legislative audit found 21 problems at his agency. The audit found officers were not properly monitoring released sex offenders and failed in many cases to secure required DNA samples from parolees.

Auditors determined public safety was at risk because of the lack of parolee supervision.

Gonska acknowledged that the findings were accurate but said most of the problems would not exist if he could fill the 50 vacancies at the agency. He has been required by Gibbons to keep positions vacant as part of a hiring freeze spawned by a budget shortfall now approaching $800 million.

Three days after the audit’s release, Gibbons and Department of Public Safety Director Jerry Hafen vowed to take action to correct the problems. Hafen, Gonska’s supervisor, said he was making supervision of sex offenders the priority. Gibbons said public safety would not be placed at risk.

The parole and probation agency has 198 people overseeing 18,000 parolees and probationers.

State Sen. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas, said he was sorry Gonska was leaving. He said Gonska had told legislators that he would do everything possible to fix the problems.

The agency must tell legislators at a May 15 meeting what steps have been taken to solve the problems.

“He might have said too much,” Coffin added. “The governor obviously fired the guy. No one is staying in this administration.”

Coffin had said Gibbons should dip into the state rainy-day fund for money to fill parole and probation vacancies.

He said too many of Gibbons’ appointees go along with the governor’s wishes and lack the political will to tell him the truth even in cases where public safety is jeopardized.

In a statement announcing the resignation, Hafen said he appreciated Gonska’s “dedication and service” to Nevada.

Contact Review-Journal Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or (775) 687-3901.

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