Members of the Oklahoma Ethics Commission will try again next month to fill the agency's top spot.
Commissioners interviewed four finalists, each of them attorneys, over four hours in closed session Tuesday for the executive director's position. Chairman Jo Pettigrew said commissioners couldn't reach a decision after meeting for another hour.
They are scheduled to resume discussions Dec. 14.
“We had four excellent interviews, all outstanding candidates,” Pettigrew said. “We did thoroughly vet them. … We need to just check out a few other little details and think about some things.”
State Rep. Mike Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City, was thwarted Tuesday in his attempt to join commissioners in the closed session. Reynolds cited a section of the state's Open Meeting Act that allows a lawmaker who is on a committee that has jurisdiction over a state agency to attend its executive sessions. He is a member of the House of Representatives Administrative Rules and Government Oversight Committee, which reviews rules of all state agencies.
Senior Assistant Attorney General Neal Leader said an earlier attorney general's opinion on a school board meeting states a committee member didn't have the right to be present during hiring and firing discussions because it was difficult to envision a committee member having jurisdiction over personnel matters.
“The whole purpose of the executive session is to have some confidentiality,” Leader said.
All four finalists for the executive director's post are from Oklahoma. The last day for Marilyn Hughes, the agency's executive director for 25 years, is Friday.
“Merry Christmas everyone, it's been a pleasure working with you,” Hughes said at the end of Tuesday's meeting.
With the agency's general counsel, Rebecca Adams, who held the post 21 years, and its longtime investigator, Darey Roberts, also leaving Friday, commissioners put Suzi Bryan, the Ethics Commission's principal assistant, in charge of the office as of Saturday. She will be one of two employees still on staff after Friday.
Commissioners took no action on applicants seeking the general counsel position.
Pettigrew said she is “extremely optimistic” that an executive director will be named at the Dec. 14 meeting. Whoever is named executive director “in all probability” won't be able to start working at the agency until the end of the month, she said.
She said commissioners were pleased with the finalists for the top job at the agency, which writes civil penalty rules governing state campaigns and the conduct of state officers and employees.
Reynolds cited the same section of the state's Open Meeting Act in August when he requested to attend a closed board meeting of the Oklahoma Office of Juvenile Affairs Commission when its members were interviewing finalists for its executive director opening. Board members decided to let Reynolds attend the closed session.
Reynolds said he discovered the section of the law late last year when legislative leaders allowed a couple of lawmakers to attend a closed session to consider a settlement of a lawsuit filed against the state Department of Human Services.
Reynolds said he should have been allowed to attend the Ethics Commission's closed session because the word confidential appears only once in the section dealing with executive sessions.
“It doesn't say anything about confidentiality with regards to discussing the employment, hiring, appointment” of an employee, he said.
Leader said, “The very notion of executive session is that the discussions really are confidential. That's the reason they're closed.”
We had four excellent interviews, all outstanding candidates. We did thoroughly vet them. … We need to just check out a few other little details and think about some things.”
Oklahoma Ethics Commission chairman