An Oklahoma City attorney who served nearly 20 years overseeing Oklahoma's elections was named Friday to be the executive director of the Oklahoma Ethics Commission.
Lee Slater, 69, will start his new duties Feb. 1 on a part-time basis to help him close down his law practice. His annual salary will be $120,000 once he works for the agency full-time, which is to occur by July 1, the start of the new fiscal year.
Slater, whose legal specialty is campaign finance and lobbyist regulations, succeeds Marilyn Hughes, who retired late last year after serving 25 years heading up the Ethics Commission, which writes civil penalty rules governing state campaigns and the conduct of state officers and employees. Slater also was hired to do legal work the past 20 years for the state Senate.
Slater was among about 40 applicants and four finalists for the post, commission Chairman Jo Pettigrew said. All four finalists were from Oklahoma.
“We all know of Mr. Slater's abilities,” Pettigrew said. “With Mr. Slater, you don't have the learning curve that you have with a lot of others. He is one of the foremost experts on ethics rules and laws in the state of Oklahoma without a doubt. He's been attending these meetings …. and working with the Ethics Commission for 20 years.”
His knowledge of how the process works in the state Capitol also is helpful, she said.
“He has worked with an agency — the Election Board — (and) has been secretary of the Senate,” Pettigrew said. “So he brings great knowledge about how the Legislature works and how state government works.”
Slater said he decided to return to state government because it is a challenge.
“The commission is planning to undertake a new direction,” he said. “They intend to take a look at their rules and see if they can be streamlined, made easier to understand, easier to comply with.”
Slater worked at newspapers in Clinton, Mangum and Edmond before being hired to head the agency that oversees state elections.
Slater was a political reporter for the Tulsa World in 1971 when he was named secretary of the Oklahoma Election Board.
He served 17½ years in that post. He earned a law degree during that time and resigned in 1988 to join a law firm.
During his tenure as state Election Board secretary, Slater launched a comprehensive program that led to mandatory training for 15,000 election officials, including county and precinct officials and voter registrars.
He was instrumental in the 1974 rewriting of all Oklahoma's election laws for the first time in state history, and he developed voter information programs.
Along with his service as Election Board secretary, Slater served as secretary to the state Senate. The secretary of the Senate is elected by the Senate every two years. With it goes the job of Election Board secretary.
After Slater starts work next month at the Ethics Commission, he can start hiring employees. The agency, which had five employees, is down to two workers.
Ethics Commission members and Slater met for about four hours in closed, executive session to interview six applicants for the post of general counsel. No decision was reached.
Pettigrew said commissioners have narrowed the field to two or three. All six are from Oklahoma, she said. About 60 applied for the post.
Commissioners, who started the process to hire an executive director and a general counsel in November, aren't scheduled to meet for another month. Pettigrew said they may call a special meeting to discuss the applicants further and vote on filling the post.
“We wanted to take a little more time to check some references,” she said. “We waited this long, we want to do it right.”