Ethics panel's about-face on ex-DHS commissioner presents many concerns

The Oklahoman Editorial Published: June 19, 2012

WITH a decision last week, the Oklahoma Ethics Commission essentially said “Oops, never mind” to a former member of the Department of Human Services oversight board who is now a former member only because the ethics panel originally dragged his name through the mud publicly.

Oops? That's it?

That's all Steven Dow got from the ethics group, which on Friday withdrew its public reprimand, saying newly discovered evidence revealed the alleged ethics violation for which he had been scolded was “inadvertent.” Last month the panel had issued a public letter of reprimand against Dow for serving on the state Human Services Commission while also heading a nonprofit in Tulsa that contracts with DHS to provide services to low-income children.

The ethics commission said the relationship constituted a conflict of interest. The panel could have issued a private reprimand but chose the more high-profile approach. Dow resigned the next day, saying he didn't want to get in the way of the important work the oversight board is involved with as it tries to guide DHS through a period of reform.

But in stepping aside, he made it clear to Gov. Mary Fallin that his original nomination had been fully vetted by the legal staff of former Gov. Brad Henry, who appointed Dow in 2010. He also noted that more recently, the state attorney general's office, acting on a request by the DHS commission's chairman, looked into the issue and was unable to determine whether there was a conflict. The assistant AG who handled the case did say there would be no conflict if a commissioner's ownership of an entity doing business with DHS did not exceed 2 percent or $5,000. Dow's does not — but why would that rule apply in this case anyway, since his Community Action Project is a nonprofit?

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