Steven Dow's appointment to the Oklahoma Human Services Commission in 2010 shook things up. Dow's questioning of whether open meeting rules were being followed properly, and his insistence that the board dive more deeply into child death cases and data presented by the Department of Human Services, has rankled colleagues.
One of them is Aneta Wilkinson, who took umbrage last year when Dow, during a deposition in a class-action lawsuit filed against the state, criticized the commission as “quite non-participatory and very weak.” Wilkinson has strongly defended the work of the commission. She was one of three commissioners who voted against settling the lawsuit; Dow welcomed the settlement.
The two are jousting again over a meeting Dow attended in February with parents and guardians of severely developmentally disabled residents of the Southern Oklahoma Resource Center in Pauls Valley. With Dow was attorney Louis Bullock, who in the 1980s was part of the civil rights lawsuit that resulted in closure of the Hissom Memorial Center in Sand Springs.
The state is trying to come up with a plan for the Pauls Valley facility and the Northern Oklahoma Resource Center in Enid. Both are deteriorating and outdated.
Wilkinson sent a letter to commissioners saying Dow was essentially inviting a lawsuit against the state similar to the one Bullock filed over Hissom. Dow said that couldn't be further from the truth and that he was acting with the commission's knowledge. He added that other officials attended the meeting, including a state senator.
Commission Chairman Brad Yarbrough has tried to tamp down the rhetoric, and rightly said the focus should be to “do the right thing for all Oklahomans, especially those who are in critical need of special care.” That's true in every aspect of the agency's work.
These public spats don't help the commission's efforts to find a new director and ultimately reshape and improve DHS.