Commissioners Clabes and Lane jumped to the defense of Gov. Mary Fallin. They said she personally spent many hours talking with residents' families and visiting the institutions and community-based alternatives, but had not advised them how to vote.
“I have had no conversations with Gov. Fallin on this motion or any votes or the future of either NORCE or SORC,” Clabes said. “Instead of criticizing the governor, I feel we should be grateful that we have a governor who cares enough about doing what is right, especially in dealing with our physically and mentally disabled clients.”
Lane echoed Clabes' remarks, saying, “The governor never asked me to do anything other than figure out what I thought the right thing to do was.”
“I never received any instruction from her — never was told how to vote. Politics has had nothing to do with my decision in this,” he said.
Commissioners Aneta Wilkinson and Linda English Weeks joined Peck in voting against the plan.
Plans for closure
The resolution contains many assurances that parents, guardians and family members of residents will be given plenty of time and opportunity to participate in the development of individual plans, so that moves of residents into the community will be successful.
DHS staff members will begin contacting family members soon, said Sheree Powell, DHS spokeswoman.
The governor and state Senate President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman issued news releases shortly after the vote praising the commission's decision.
“Outcomes for individuals in community settings have proven to be better than outcomes produced by institutional care,” Fallin said. “Shifting our resources to community-based services will ensure that the greatest number of Oklahomans can get the highest quality of direct support, rather than spending tax dollars on the upkeep of large vacant buildings at the state's two aging institutions.”
The Oklahoma Public Employees Association countered with its own news release, saying, “The actions today reek of desperation and a lack of transparency of a commission that could be voted out of existence next Tuesday. We believe the closure of both centers threatens our state's most defenseless citizens and that's just wrong.”
Commissioner Clabes said he believes commissioners made the right decision.
“Will everybody thrive and improve with this change? Only God knows, and I firmly believe the majority, if not all, will do better,” he said.
Peck argued that closing both institutions would put the state at the mercy of community care providers who would be free to charge the state “basically whatever they want,” because the state would have no alternative place for people who are developmentally disabled.
Business leaders in both Pauls Valley and Enid voiced concern about the economic impact on their communities.
“It will be devastating,” said Della Wilson, president of the Pauls Valley Chamber of Commerce. “It's our second-largest employer.”
The Southern Oklahoma Resource Center has 279 employees. It is second only to the Walmart Distribution Center, which employs about 570, she said.
Wilson said she expects the economic impact will reverberate not just through Pauls Valley, but surrounding communities, as well.
Some families have both husbands and wives who work at the center and likely will have to relocate, she said.
In Enid, the impact of the closure of the Northern Oklahoma Resource Center will be “substantial,” but not as devastating as the impact of the other closure on Pauls Valley, said Jon Blankenship, president of the Greater Enid Chamber of Commerce.
The Northern Oklahoma Resource Center has 292 employees. It is Enid's 10th-largest employer, he said.
Vance Air Force Base is Enid's largest employer, with a combined military and private contractor payroll of about 2,500 employees, he said.
The community's largest private sector employer is AdvancePierre Foods with between 1,600 and 1,700 local employees, Blankenship said.
“Actually, our local economy has been doing quite well,” he said. “Unemployment has hovered around the 3 percent level for month after month. Our sales tax revenue is up about 16 percent for calendar year to date. ... Our local economy has been booming. A lot of it is energy related.”
Still, the closure will definitely be felt, Blankenship said, noting that not only will Enid feel the direct payroll loss, but a lot of items are purchased locally for the center.