A spat between the governor's office and the director of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections over funding is ultimately a public relations loss for an agency that on its best day doesn't get much love from lawmakers or the general public.
DOC Director Justin Jones sought $6.4 million in additional funding to help get through this fiscal year. But meantime he had $21.9 million in three revolving accounts, which prompted Gov. Mary Fallin to fire off a letter saying the “discovery of an undisclosed $22 million” called into question DOC's accounting practices and how it manages its money.
Undisclosed? One of the funds has been on the books since 1978. Jones says all three are listed in the department's budget every year. He has never been bashful about discussing the funds or how they're used — essentially, they go to fill budget gaps, cover deficits and address infrastructure needs for a system with about 26,000 inmates, keeping aging prisons with too-few corrections officers near percent of capacity most of the time.
After Steve Burrage, who heads the budget committee for the Board of Corrections, asked about the need for the supplemental, Jones withdrew the request. Instead he will use unencumbered funds from the revolving accounts to pay for the needs he outlined in the supplemental request.
The corrections board is expected to discuss the accounts when it meets Thursday. Burrage has suggested budgeting the revolving fund monies up front; Jones says he's amenable to that.
Now in his eighth year as director and his 37th with DOC, Jones has never given a reason to believe he's anything other than a dedicated public servant doing the best he can for his overburdened agency. This flap shouldn't change that. The shame would be if it prompts legislators to discount Jones' future requests for help, because the needs are real and ongoing.