An anticipated Tuesday vote by DHS commissioners on a plan to close a Pauls Valley residential center for developmentally disabled adults has been postponed indefinitely at the request of the governor.
“I'm removing it from the agenda,” said Wes Lane, chairman of the Oklahoma Commission for Human Services. “The governor has expressed an interest in helping us work through this knotty problem.”
In a related development, Gov. Mary Fallin on Thursday announced the appointment of two new DHS commissioners to fill two of the three vacancies on the nine-member commission.
The governor appointed Brandon Clabes and Myron Pope to fill vacancies on the commission created by the resignations of Steven Dow and Anne Roberts.
Clabes, of Choctaw, is chief of police in Midwest City, and Pope, of Edmond, is vice president of enrollment management at the University of Central Oklahoma. Clabes will serve out the remainder of Dow's term, through August 2018, while Pope will serve the remainder of Roberts' term, through August 2014.
“Given the very recent appointment of two new DHS commissioners, Governor Fallin requested a delayed vote to allow them and her to study the issue in greater detail,” said Alex Weintz, the governor's spokesman.
Thursday's developments were hailed as good news by members of the Parent Guardian Association for the Southern Oklahoma Resource Center, who feared a commission vote would be taken Tuesday to close the Pauls Valley center.
“That's helpful,” said Ken Talley, president of the association.
Still, Talley said uncertainty remains because he doesn't know whether the governor will want to keep open the residential centers for developmentally disabled adults in Pauls Valley and Enid, or will advocate closing the institutions and moving the residents to residential settings.
Association members say they fear that closing the Pauls Valley center where many severely disabled residents have lived for decades would traumatize the residents and could lead to many of their deaths when they are forced to move.
How to best provide housing and services for severely developmentally disabled adults in Oklahoma is a problem that has confounded the state Legislature and Oklahoma Human Services Commission for years.
Buildings at the two state institutions have fallen into disrepair while policy makers have hotly debated whether money should be spent on repairs or instead used to move residents into community-based settings that are favored by many human services professionals.
The controversy intensified at the June DHS commission meeting after Commissioner Michael Peck presented a plan to close the Pauls Valley center and move some of its residents to the Enid institution, while moving others into community-based settings.
The Parent Guardian Association distributed a heated response this week, accusing commissioners of misleading them about whether the issue would be discussed at the June meeting and perhaps violating the Open Meeting Act in the process.
The group stated it also believes Department of Human Services officials have endangered the safety of developmentally disabled residents of the Pauls Valley center by purposely delaying the installation of fire suppression sprinklers in many residential buildings “due to their desire to see the facility closed.”
DHS commissioners denied violating the Open Meeting Act or purposefully misleading anyone.
Talley said he asked both Commissioner Peck and a secretary for then-Commission Chairman Brad Yarbrough several days before last month's meeting whether there was any agenda item or plan to discuss the future of the Southern Oklahoma Resource Center and Northern Oklahoma Resource Center of Enid at the June 12 meeting.
Talley said Peck told him he “would not be presenting anything,” and the secretary — after consulting Yarbrough — “said there would be nothing on the agenda regarding the two centers.”
At the meeting, however, Peck presented a lengthy proposal to close the Pauls Valley residential care center and transfer about 46 of its 124 residents to a similar center in Enid.
Peck, who lives in Enid, presented his proposal under an agenda item labeled “property committee report.” He is chairman of that committee.
“Aside from apparent violation of the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act, it was personally frustrating and disappointing to learn that Commissioner Peck did indeed give the above entitled report,” the association said in a statement. “The SORC PGA does not know why this occurred, but believes it was intentionally misled and is owed an apology.”