With a standing-room-only crowd stretching into the hallway, the Oklahoma Historical Society's board of directors Wednesday voted unanimously to oppose Gov. Mary Fallin's proposal to consolidate the agency into the Oklahoma Department of Tourism and Recreation.
“Governor, if it ain't broke, don't fix it,” board member Denzil Garrison said shortly before the vote. “We have done some wonderful things for the state of Oklahoma.”
Bob Blackburn, the Historical Society's executive director, described Gov. Fallin as a “strong ally” of the Historical Society and said Wednesday's meeting was not a call to action to the society's 10,000 members.
“This is not an attack on the governor or the Tourism Department,” he said. “We are being very careful not to call anybody to action. That is not our goal today. We're not saying rally. We're not saying call anybody. We're just saying, let's ask the questions.”
The board voted to adopt a position statement that says members believe they can best serve the state and preserve the state's history by “continuing its present status of independence from any other agency.”
Blackburn told board members the society would have to make major changes if it is required to cut its budget by 15 percent to 21 percent as part of the proposed consolidation.
He listed elimination of his own job and the job of his deputy director, elimination of the Centennial Farm and Ranch Program, reductions in force at museum sites and research cuts as actions that could be taken.
Directors voted to defer action on plans to prepare for budget cuts to see what develops.
Board members expressed hope that lawmakers and the governor will not follow through with consolidation.
“I just can't believe that once we educate our lawmakers and our governor regarding the devastating impact that budget cuts of the magnitude that are being discussed would have on our agency, that they would continue to press forward with anything like that,” said board member Leonard Logan, of Vinita.
Board member Frederick Drummond, of Pawhuska, said he expects Gov. Fallin to be “real sorry” she brought up the consolidation proposal.
“We need to give her a chance to back out gracefully,” he said.
Alex Weintz, spokesman for Gov. Fallin, said the governor hasn't changed her position on consolidation.
Weintz said the governor sees consolidation as a way to save money and preserve the agency's mission at a time when the budget is tight and some lawmakers would like to abolish it.
“We think the Historical Society could save money on back office expenses line human resources and office space,” he said, adding that the Tourism Department could promote museums.
“We see the atmosphere in the Legislature,” he said. “It's going to be more and more challenging for the Historical Society to receive the funding that it needs and wants to pursue its mission. I think the Historical Society may face cuts this year and it may face cuts every year in perpetuity and we don't think that's good for the agency or its mission, which is why we propose to house it in a larger agency.”
“We haven't proposed eliminating the board,” he said. “We envision the Historical Society operating as a department within the tourism agency.”
I just can't believe that once we educate our lawmakers and our governor regarding the devastating impact that budget cuts of the magnitude that are being discussed would have on our agency, that they would continue to press forward with anything like that.”
Board member Leonard Logan, of Vinita,