In The Know: DHS commissioner resigns as chairman

In The KnowIn The Know is a daily synopsis of Oklahoma policy-related news and blogs. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. E-mail your suggestions for In The Know items to You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Today you should know that Brad Yarbrough resigned as DHS chairman after a dispute over allowing Steven Dow and Anne Roberts to continue serving on child welfare committees. Yarbrough plans to remain on the commission as a regular member. Lengthy legal challenges have likely killed chances for a 2012 vote on allowing wine sales in grocery stores.

Following Aubrey McClendon’s removal as chair of the Chesapeake Energy board, the directors changed the company’s bylaws to allow him to keep powers he had as chairman. Senator Jim Inhofe has been trying to round up support to block a rule that would limit the emissions of mercury and toxic chemicals from power plants. Oklahoma tribal leaders are reviving the Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes, which had been defunct for six years.

A new group was formed over concerns that complaints involving employment and housing discrimination will be overlooked after the Oklahoma Human Rights Commission disbands this month. A ruling by the Oklahoma Supreme Court could revive an association that represents state corrections workers by overturning a law that prevents them from collecting dues via payroll deductions. The Rainy Day Fund could grow to a record high at the end of this fiscal year.

The OK Policy Blog shows that increased federal support has led to small increases in total state spending in each year of the recession, but this has not prevented cuts in areas like education and public safety that are not heavily supplemented with federal funds. A guest blog by Barry Friedman asks what happened to the promise of the common good in America. NewsOK asks what happens to the Medical Examiners office and state Capitol after bonds go nowhere.

Tulsa Mayor Bartlett remained cautious about a proposed budget, with several economic unknowns looming large. NewsOK writes that paying for more police officers on the street would save money in the long run. Steve Lackmeyer begins a series on the history of Oklahoma City’s revival.

The Number of the Day is Oklahoma’s rank nationally for residents’ average weekly wage growth between 2010 and 2011. In today’s Policy Note, Demos explains how those arguing for more STEM graduates instead of liberal arts majors are missing the point.

In The News

DHS commissioner resigns as chairman

Verbal fireworks erupted at an Oklahoma Department of Human Services meeting Tuesday as Brad Yarbrough announced his resignation as commission chairman at the same time another commissioner was demanding a commission vote to censure him. Yarbrough said after the meeting that he had submitted his resignation as chairman to the governor’s office Monday. He said the decision was unrelated to Commissioner Jay Dee Chase’s call for his censure. The resignation was to become effective at the end of Tuesday’s meeting, he said. Yarbrough said he had actually sought to resign the position as early as March, but Gov. Mary Fallin refused to accept it then. Tuesday’s fireworks were ignited when Yarbrough announced he had asked Steven Dow and Anne Roberts, the two commissioners who had resigned, to continue to serve as nonmembers on a DHS committee that is refining a child welfare reform plan and another committee that is looking into child deaths. Reached by telephone following the meeting, Dow and Roberts both said that in light of what occurred at the meeting, they no longer plan to serve on the committees.

Read more from NewsOK.

Legal battle likely to prevent vote on wine petition this fall

Lengthy legal challenges have almost certainly killed chances for a 2012 vote on legalizing wine sales in some Oklahoma retail outlets. The Oklahoma Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments on the initiative petition for June 21, essentially pushing the process too far back to be completed in time for the Nov. 6 ballot, said Brian Howe, spokesman for Oklahomans for Modern Laws. Because of the legal challenges, petition organizers haven’t started circulating their petition. The extended legal process has pushed the process so late that petition passers wouldn’t have the legally permitted 90 days to seek the 155,000 signatures needed to qualify the petition for a vote of the people, Howe said. To make the Nov. 6 vote, the signed petitions would have to be certified by about Sept. 1, he said. The delay is disappointing, but the process moves forward with a 2014 vote as the new goal, Howe said.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

Chesapeake CEO losing a title, but keeping powers

Chesapeake Energy Corp’s (CHK.N) board of directors, despite being taken to task by investors for lax oversight of Chief Executive Aubrey McClendon, has changed the company’s bylaws to allow the executive to keep powers he had as chairman. McClendon, who co-founded Chesapeake, will lose his title as chairman by June 22 after the board and the company’s biggest shareholders approve an independent chairman to replace him. McClendon and the still-unnamed chairman each hold the power to call special meetings of shareholders and the board of directors. The Chesapeake board revealed the change in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission made on Friday. “I guess that is sensible to give the CEO the right to call a board meeting as well as the chairman,” said Paul Hodgson, senior researcher at governance firm GMI Ratings. “But I don’t understand why the CEO, who is management, should have the right to call a special meeting of shareholders.” A board chairman, said Hodgson, is the ultimate representative for shareholders, and it is the responsibility of the chairman, not the CEO, to call a special shareholder meeting.

Read more from Reuters.

Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe clashes with colleagues over air pollution rule

Sen. Jim Inhofe urged his colleagues on Tuesday to support his effort to kill a new air pollution rule, while an Arkansas senator called Inhofe’s proposal “over the top” and said it would allow utility companies to pollute at will. Inhofe, R-Tulsa, has been trying to round up support to block the implementation of a rule that would limit the emissions of mercury and toxic chemicals from power plants. In a speech on the Senate floor, Inhofe said the rule is part of President Barack Obama’s “war on coal” and that it would cost jobs in numerous coal-producing states while raising consumers’ electricity bills. Inhofe also launched a pre-emptive strike on a bipartisan alternative to his bill, which would delay the new rule for six years to give utility companies time to adapt.

Read more from NewsOK.

Leaders revive Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes

When the Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes (ITCFCT) met at the Riverwind Casino on June 7-8, its leaders were breathing life back into a group that had been defunct for six years. Although it had a storied name, ITCFCT had mostly remained quiet during the post-gaming boom in the Sooner State. With the election of new leaders in two of the five tribes, the idea to revitalize the organization took hold. Leaders from the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, Chickasaw Nation, Seminole Nation, Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and the Cherokee Nation gathered with their top thinkers to hash out their positions on issues like education, elders, enrollment and repatriation, among others. Nearly a dozen work groups brainstormed during the two-day session, which was followed up by a two-hour general session opened to the public. About 130 tribal citizens, officials and employees from the five tribes attended to listen to mini state-of-the-nation addresses from their five respective leaders.

Read more from Native American Times.

New group formed to look at human rights complaints in Oklahoma

A new group was formed Monday over concerns that discrimination complaints involving employment and housing issues will be overlooked after the Oklahoma Human Rights Commission disbands this month. Senate Bill 763 moved the commission’s responsibilities to the office of civil rights enforcement in the attorney general’s office, with the agency to begin operations July 1. The independent commission investigates discrimination complaints. Most of its work deals with helping alleviate employment and housing discrimination lawsuits. Neil McElderry, vice chairman of the nine-member Human Rights Commission, said putting the agency under the attorney general would make it harder for state employees and others to come forward with complaints, especially against state agencies. The attorney general’s office represents state agencies in most cases.

Read more from NewsOK.

State high court ruling favors Oklahoma corrections employees association

A ruling by the Oklahoma Supreme Court could revive an association that represents state corrections workers. The state’s high court declared Tuesday that a provision added to a state law that requires an association to have at least 2,000 state employees as members to qualify for payroll deduction could be removed if a federal appeals court finds the restriction to be unconstitutional. Justices, voting unanimously, made the decision after being asked by the 10th U.S. Circuit of Appeals to look into the matter. The Denver-based appellate court is considering an appeal by the Oklahoma Corrections Professional Association, which was unsuccessful in getting the provision overturned in Oklahoma City federal court. Amanda Ewing, executive director of the corrections association, said membership has plummeted to the “low hundreds” since October, the last time membership dues could be paid by voluntary payroll deduction. The association had about 1,900 members in October.

Read more from NewsOK.

Rainy Day Fund could set record

The likelihood that the state will have a record of nearly $600 million in its “rainy-day fund” at the end of the fiscal year is increasing, Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger said Tuesday. “We now have 11 months of revenue in the bank, with almost 10 percent growth while exceeding the official estimate for the period by nearly $347 million,” Doerflinger said. “We are on the cusp of returning to prerecession levels in our rainy-day fund.” Two years ago, the fund had a balance of $2. In July, a deposit of $249.2 million was put in the fund. “This year’s deposit will dwarf that figure,” Doerflinger said. “In fact, if June collections surpass the official estimate for that month, we will topple the $596.6 million rainy-day record, set at the beginning of fiscal year 2009 before the full force of the national recession began being felt.”

Read more from The Tulsa World.

Why total spending has gone up as budgets are cut

OK Policy has spent a lot of time focusing on the real and continuing damage caused by repeated state budget cuts over the past three years, as well as the fact that state tax collections are at historic lows. Meanwhile, the folks at the Oklahoma Council on Public Affairs have chosen to emphasize that total state expenditures continue to increase each year. How can both be true? Federal grants have come to comprise a much larger share of the state’s revenues in recent years. Total state expenditures have increased because more federal dollars were passed through the state for safety net programs in response to the recession. Areas that are not heavily supplemented with federal money, like education and public safety, are experiencing flat or declining funding.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog.

Guest blog (Barry Friedman): What happened to promise of America?

There they were, on their knees on the Supreme Court steps back in March, praying to overturn the Affordable Care Act (and if you’re calling it Obamacare, stop – it was approved by a majority in Congress), asking for divine intervention so insurance companies could once again indiscriminately drop coverage on diabetic 6-year-olds. Closer to home, legislators considered tax cuts, while Oklahoma classrooms fill up like Chuck E. Cheese on a Saturday afternoon. It’s an odd world, where senior citizens who would otherwise be dead without Medicare carry signs that read “Keep government out of my medicine cabinet” and where those making $50,000 per year and are three paychecks away from their own tent at Occupy Tulsa but 300 away from being invited to Hilton Head for a meet-and-greet with the Koch Brothers, argue against Dodd-Frank. If this is class warfare, it’s headed in the wrong direction. So what happened to us?

Read more from the OK Policy Blog.

What happens to ME office, Capitol after bonds go nowhere?

So, what happens now? What happens to the state medical examiner’s office, housed in a substandard building in northeast Oklahoma City, not far from the Capitol. What happens to the Capitol itself, which is in dire need of repair and has been for years? What happens to the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum, which stands half-completed along the Oklahoma River on the edge of downtown? The chairman of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee said at the start of the 2012 session that he had about $1 billion worth of potential bond issue projects. Funding them all wasn’t possible, of course, so the Legislature chose to fund none of them, saying there was no appetite among conservatives for increasing the state’s bond indebtedness. Was that opposition especially acute during an election year? Probably. But there’s no reason to expect anything will be different in 2013.

Read more from NewsOK.

Mayor Bartlett hopes better estimate of sales tax revenue can keep “heartburn” at bay

Three years removed from a city budget shortfall that led to worker furloughs and other cuts, Mayor Dewey Bartlett is careful not to sound too bullish with his proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1. “Do we see rainy days ahead? I wish I could stand here today and paint a more sunshiny picture,” Bartlett told city councilors in April. The group must vote to approve the budget for it to be enacted. Spending in Bartlett’s proposal is based on a projected 3.7 percent increase in sales tax revenue for the city’s general operating fund for the upcoming fiscal year. Bartlett listed economic unknowns that loom large for Tulsa, including the American Airlines bankruptcy that could potentially eliminate more than 2000 jobs. Overly optimistic sales tax projections can cause serious turmoil. Bartlett added that making decisions based on a “moment in time” has caused “serious heartburn” for the city in the past.

Read more from Urban Tulsa Weekly.

More officers on the street figures to save money in the long run

Crime doesn’t pay. But it sure does cost. The cost of adding police officers is more than offset by the reduction in the cost of crime, says the Rand Corporation in promoting a cost-of-crime calculator that public officials can use to plan for public safety needs. Measuring the cost of crime is somewhat subjective, factoring in such intangibles as an increase in “general fear” and the diminishment of quality of life. Other costs are easier to measure and include lost property and the price of incarceration. Oklahoma City Police Chief Bill Citty wants to add 200 officers to the local force, which would cost the city as much as $20 million a year. The Rand figures, however, say the addition of 200 officers would save as much as $100 million a year in the cost of murder alone in Oklahoma City. Adding just one officer could save four times the cost of the officer’s compensation.

Read more from NewsOK.

Downtown Oklahoma City revival marked by desperation, doubt, struggles

With Oklahoma City euphoric with its arrival in the NBA Finals and the local economy grabbing national headlines, it’s easy to forget in the late 1980s this city wasn’t just hit by an economic slump or recession — it was a virtual depression. At the peak of the early 1980s oil boom, Oklahoma boasted 975 active drilling rigs in 1981 — a figure that plummeted to 161 five years later. Petroleum engineers were working as janitors. I knew a former trucking company executive who took a job answering phones at Hertz. Many families left Oklahoma City altogether, hoping to find better opportunities elsewhere. Oklahoma City’s corporate base was dying. City Hall struggled to keep up with a record number of boarded-up homes. College professors were instructing students to seek opportunities out of state — advice I saw heeded more often than not.

Read more from NewsOK.

Quote of the Day

I guess that is sensible to give the CEO the right to call a board meeting as well as the chairman. But I don’t understand why the CEO, who is management, should have the right to call a special meeting of shareholders.
Paul Hodgson, researcher at governance firm GMI Ratings, on a change that allows Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon to keep powers he had as board chair despite being removed from that position.

Number of the Day


Oklahoma’s rank nationally for residents’ average weekly wage growth between 2010 and 2011, 8.3 percent

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Needed: Grads who can solve problems and think critically

Every year about this time, as college grads clamor for their elusive first job, a debate naturally arises about which degrees are the most employable. “College Grads Need Skills, Not Liberal Arts,” is the title of one such heated exchange hosted on Framing the issue this way misses the point. The Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University has pointed out that the demand for workers holding science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) degrees is really a “proxy for the demand for underlying competencies.” Critical thinking; active learning; problem solving; and mathematical, inductive and deductive reasoning – skills valuable in work and in life generally – are just a few of these competencies. When the numbers are added up, many feel our educational system is producing enough qualified individuals to fill the ranks of most PhD-level positions. The larger issue is that we fail to provide basic science and math problem solving skills to the majority of American school children.

Read more from Demos.

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Gene Perry worked for OK Policy from 2011 to 2019. He is a native Oklahoman and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a B.A. in history and an M.A. in journalism.

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