An appellate court has overturned an Oklahoma County District Court judge's ruling that ordered the state Tourism and Recreation Department to develop a severance package for employees who lost their jobs when seven state parks closed last year. The Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals voted 2-1 Wednesday that the district court ruling was too contradictory and vague and sent the matter back with instructions to determine whether the department has to follow reduction-in-force procedures for the employees. District Judge Bryan Dixon ruled last year that the Tourism Department should follow severance benefit packages according to state law after the Oklahoma Public Employees Association filed a lawsuit over the way the employees at state parks scheduled for closure were treated. As part of the budget cuts, the Tourism Department decided to stop operations at seven state parks; the parks remained open because private groups or tribal or local governments took over their operations. In its lawsuit, the employees association said about 10 Tourism Department workers were sent letters telling them they would be transferred to other state parks. The association said the department violated state law by not offering severance benefits if employees weren't willing to transfer.
MICHAEL MCNUTT, CAPITOL BUREAU