If Rep. Tom Newell gets his way, by the end of the year the state Board of Corrections will no longer exist.
Newell filed legislation for the 2014 session, which begins Monday, to do away with the seven-member board, a move he believes will create more accountability in the state Corrections Department. Newell is suggesting a move similar to one approved by voters last year placing the Department of Human Services under the supervision of the governor.
In 2012, voters gave 60 percent approval to State Question 765, which dissolved the board that oversaw DHS and made the director of the department a position appointed by the governor. Previously the nine-member Human Services Commission selected the agency director.
Newell's bill would place the director of the state Corrections Department under the general supervision of the Cabinet secretary of safety and security.
Corrections Board members in Oklahoma are appointed by the governor. Last year, with the appointments of Ernest Haynes and Frank Henke IV, the majority of the members came from Gov. Mary Fallin. However, Newell contends those board members are not accountable to voters when change in the department needs to happen.
“It's awful hard to hold a volunteer board accountable for something,” Newell said. “So, I think it's just much easier, and I don't care if it's a Democrat governor or a Republican governor or a governor I don't like, if they're in charge of that, then they can't point their finger and say, ‘Well we don't have all the appointments that we want to have yet,' or this or that.”
The use of such boards was an attempt by the state's constitutional framers to limit the power of the governor, but recently the executive branch of the state government, in conjunction with state lawmakers, has reversed that. Last year, the Republican-controlled Legislature passed and Fallin signed measures that abolished nearly 50 boards and commissions and consolidated more than 40 others.
Newell said he got the green light from Fallin's staff before filing the bill. Newell also said he had spoken with a board member's relative, and they said the board member was receptive to the measure.
At a Wednesday news conference, Fallin said she has yet to read the measure, but expressed frustration with the lack of communication and expedient reform at some agencies, including the Corrections Department.
“I haven't seen his particular bill, but I will tell you it's no secret in Oklahoma that there are a lot of major agencies where the governor has little or no authority to appoint a director, to help implement a vision or plan or create efficiencies or, frankly, even to look at funding,” Fallin said.
“I think it's important that if a governor is going to set a vision and set goals that are important and listen to the people ... as to what they want to address, then I have to have help with being able to form those plans.”
Current state Board of Corrections member and Secretary Steve Burrage also said he had not read the bill. Burrage said he could not give his opinion on the measure before reading it, but he said he understands how Newell and others can perceive the system as inefficient.
“I try to keep the governor informed of everything we're doing. In my opinion, I want things to happen, and I'm going to make them happen as quick as I possibly can, but I am a member, one member, of a board, you understand,” Burrage said.
He said he believes the board functions well.
“As far as things that would happen quicker, I could see where it could possibly happen quicker,” Burrage said, “as far as you having a request from the governor's office and a response from the director.”