The Oklahoma Ethics Commission voted Friday to withdraw its public reprimand of former DHS Commissioner Steven Dow, citing newly discovered evidence that the alleged ethics violation was “inadvertent.”
“I am grateful that the Members of the Ethics Commission were willing to convene a special meeting and reconsider their decision,” Dow said in a prepared statement released after the ruling. “I appreciate their action today and am obviously pleased that they withdrew the reprimand.”
Dow resigned from the Oklahoma Commission for Human Services on May 30, one day after the Ethics Commission publicly reprimanded him for serving as a DHS commissioner at the same time he was the unpaid chief executive officer of the Community Action Project of Tulsa County, a nonprofit agency that contracts with DHS to provide day care and child education services.
The Ethics Commission found that to be a conflict of interest when it issued its public reprimand.
Future remains unclear
Dow's attorney, Robert McCampbell, said the Ethics Commission's reversal does not mean that Dow will get his DHS Commission job back, since Dow tendered his resignation to the governor.
The Ethics Commission voted 4-1 to withdraw its public reprimand, with Commissioner Tom Walker casting the lone dissenting vote.
Dow did not attend Friday's Ethics Commission meeting.
Members of the Ethics Commission refused to disclose the new evidence, citing commission secrecy laws. Walker also declined to discuss the reason for his dissent.
In Dow's resignation letter to the governor, he wrote that he was “surprised and disappointed” by the Ethics Commission's decision.
Disclosure was made
Dow wrote that he had informed then-Gov. Brad Henry's office of the potential conflict when Henry first appointed him, and said Henry's “legal counsel and chief of staff thoroughly investigated and researched the matter, concluding that there was not a violation of any provision of the Constitution or statute.”
Dow wrote that DHS's commission chairman later sought and received a similar informal written opinion from the state attorney general's office.
“In a letter and accompanying legal memorandum sent by Assistant Attorney General Jan Preslar last month, we received a similar legal conclusion that there was not a conflict in my serving in both capacities,” Dow wrote.
An examination of the cover letter sent by the attorney general's office shows the findings of that office were inconclusive — at least concerning the question of whether a constitutional violation had occurred.
The letter said that the assistant attorney general who researched the case was unable to determine whether Dow had a “conflict of interest based on the limited facts we were provided.”
The letter listed a number of questions that would have to be answered before a determination could be made.
In the informal legal memorandum, however, an assistant attorney general wrote, “The DHS commissioner is not violating the Ethics Rules' conflict of interest provision if the DHS commissioner does not own or control, in the aggregate, at least 2 percent or a value of $5,000 of the outstanding equity of their respective employer company.”
It could not be determined whether this information was presented to the Ethics Commission before it issued its initial public reprimand or whether it was among the newly discovered evidence presented to commissioners Friday.