Tulare County appoints 30 year veteran as new chief probation officer

Kelly M. Vernon is appointed as the new chief probation officer by the board of supervisors, she has over 30 years of experience under her belt

VISALIA – The board of supervisors appointed a new chief probation officer after LeeAnne Williams has been serving as interim since October.

On Jan. 24, the Tulare County Board of Supervisors voted to appoint Kelly M. Vernon as the county’s new Chief Probation Officer. Her position will be effective as of March 13, after the completion of pre-employment screening requirements. Vernon will step into the position after Michael Bonwell retired on Oct. 7 of last year. She brings over 30 years of experience in public safety to the table and is excited to focus on outdoor development at the county’s juvenile facilities. County administrators say they are excited to work with her.

 “I am grateful to the board of supervisors and county administration for this opportunity,” Vernon said. “I look forward to working with a department full of talented professionals and leading the department as probation continues to provide public safety through accountability and opportunity.” 

Vernon said she will be prioritizing the development of outdoor spaces at juvenile facilities. She said with the state juvenile facilities closing this summer, because of Senate Bill (SB) 823, it is important that local facilities see more attention. SB 823 establishes a block grant for county-based custody care and supervision of youth who are realigned from the department of justice. Juveniles are now in the care of the county and Vernon’s main goal is to make sure juveniles are taken care of. 

“With all of the realignment of those youth, it is going to be super important to make sure that their programming stays in place,” Vernon said. “So that we serve [the juveniles] and give them the best opportunity to hit the ground running as an adult and hopefully move completely out of our system.”

Vernon graduated from California State University, Fresno with a degree in Criminology/Corrections.  As part of her 30 year career, Vernon has served as the Chief Probation Officer for Kings County since January of 2015. In 2020, Chief Vernon was appointed to the Board of State and Community Corrections by Governor Gavin Newsom. Her appointment was later confirmed by the California State Senate. Vernon is currently the president-elect for the Chief Probation Officers of California (CPOC) and is a member of several local committees and collaborative workgroups.

“Kelly has had an exceptional career in law enforcement and is an excellent choice for the Chief Probation Officer position,” Board Chairman, Dennis Townsend said. “Her dedication to the law and her heart for people strike a balance we feel will help keep our communities safe and treat the root causes of crime.”

The motion to approve her appointment was made by district 4 supervisor, Eddie Valero, and was seconded by district 2 Supervisor, Pete Vander Poel, the motion passed 5-0. The Chief Probation Officer salary will be considered by the board of supervisors at a future meeting date and will be publicly disclosed thereafter. 

According to Israel Sotelo, the county’s chief of staff, said the county’s human resources reviews applications for this type of position. Then a list of qualified applicants is forwarded to the hiring panel. In this level of position, which is considered a non-competitive position,  there are typically two interviews with the last panel interview and the final decision being with the BOS and CAO.

Tulare County chief administrative officer Jason Britt said he looks forward to working with Vernon in her new role, “Her experience, leadership ability and expertise will serve this county well.”

Vernon is excited for her new endeavor and sees it as a challenge. She is grateful for the confidence the board of supervisors and county staff has shown her. 

“For me, it’s a bigger county than Kings County, there’s so much potential in the department and they have beautiful facilities,” Vernon said. “I was ready to take on a challenge and look to a bigger County for those opportunities and hopefully, bring some leadership to the department and keep moving it forward.”

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