Oklahoma DHS commissioner angered colleagues, but served state well
OF the depositions given last year by members of the Department of Human Services' oversight board as part of a class-action lawsuit filed against DHS, perhaps none was more compelling than that of Commissioner Steven Dow.
From the time he joined the board, he said, he regularly ran into roadblocks with the board's chairman when trying to get items added to the agenda such as further discussion about child deaths that had been all over the news. The board didn't always follow state open records laws. It didn't seem interested in digging into and questioning the information provided by staff at the board's monthly meetings.
“I would describe it as being really quite non-participatory and very weak,” Dow told lawyers representing a nonprofit that had sued DHS over child welfare concerns. “I've not seen the commission have any significant conversations about any issues at all as a deliberative body since I've been on the commission.”
Depositions by other commissioners made it clear the board's oversight was lax, to put it mildly. Those commissioners squawked about The Oklahoman's reporting on the depositions and about Dow's criticism. Soon Gov. Mary Fallin named two new commissioners and installed one of them as chairman. DHS eventually agreed to settle the lawsuit. The agency's longtime director resigned.
And now Dow, of Tulsa, is stepping aside after being publicly reprimanded by the Oklahoma Ethics Commission over concerns about a possible conflict of interest. Another commissioner, Anne Roberts of Norman, is doing the same because she fears she might have a similar conflict.
Dow was reprimanded for serving as a commissioner while also heading a Tulsa County nonprofit that contracts with DHS to provide day care and child education services. Roberts is director of legislative affairs for Integris Health, which offers child care services subsidized by DHS.