HELENA — Mike Ferriter, a Department of Corrections deputy with 29 years experience, will replace Bill Slaughter as director of the agency, said Gov. Brian Schweitzer this morning/
Slaughter announced last week that he is resigning from the post. The announcement came amid a controversy surrounding a workplace harassment complaint involving one of Corrections' highest-ranking officials.
Ferriter, a Butte native, is the current head of the agency's Community Corrections Division, the branch that oversees Montana's many private pre-release centers, treatment prisons and other entities that punish felons while rehabilitating in communities, not prison.
Ferriter began working in corrections in 1977 as a youth court officer in Great Falls.
Slaughter, 55, is a former Gallatin County sheriff and 30-year employee of the Gallatin County sheriff's office. He was appointed by Republican Gov. Judy Martz in 2001 and was one of three Martz-appointed Cabinet directors whom Democrat Brian Schweitzer retained after his 2004 election.
The Corrections controversy involves Joe Williams, a former high-ranking deputy at the department, and Rhonda Schaffer, chief of the agency's fiscal bureau. Williams was Schaffer's immediate supervisor.
Schaffer filed a complaint of workplace harassment against Williams last year with the Montana Human Rights Bureau. Williams abruptly resigned in November, four days after he was placed on administrative leave.
Current and former Corrections employees told Lee Newspapers that Schaffer's complaint was behind a department reorganization announced last month — a move that created a new division within the agency that is already expecting a $13 million cost overrun this year.
Schaffer applied for Williams' job after his resignation. The job went to another applicant, Gary Hamel, a budget official from another state agency.
Schaffer indicated then that she may take legal action over the situation, arguing that she was passed over for the job in retaliation for her filing the harassment complaint, sources said.
The department then created the Health, Planning and Information Services Division. Hamel became the head of that division, and Schaffer was given the job for which she originally applied.
The Human Rights Bureau has completed its investigation into the complaints. The agency has refused to give Lee Newspapers a copy of its findings, saying both parties in the complaint object to releasing the document.
Lee Newspapers has challenged that decision, setting in motion a legal process to determine whether the documents will be made public.
Slaughter has said the controversy was "one of the stressors" of the job, but not a major factor in his decision to leave.
Slaughter has presided over a busy time in Montana Corrections. An explosion of methamphetamine-related crimes and convictions has threatened to fill Montana's two public, one private and many regional prison beyond capacity.
In response, Slaughter's Corrections Department created a lock-down treatment center for repeat drunken-driving offenders and is in the planning stages of opening a lock-down treatment center for meth-addicted felons.
Slaughter praised Ferriter's selection to the post.
"He's the right guy at the right time," Slaughter he said.