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Oklahoma state agency consolidation bill advances

A bill to consolidate the Oklahoma Historical Society, the Oklahoma Arts Council and the Oklahoma Department of Tourism into a new entity to be called the Department of Tourism, History and Cultural Affairs narrowly passed out of a House committee Thursday.
by Randy Ellis Published: February 28, 2014
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A bill to consolidate the Oklahoma Historical Society, the Oklahoma Arts Council and the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department into a new entity to be called the Department of Tourism, History and Cultural Affairs narrowly passed out of a state House committee Thursday.

The heads of the Oklahoma Historical Society and Oklahoma Arts Council both said Thursday that they continue to believe consolidation is a bad idea.

“I’ve never really taken it all that seriously because on the merits, the Historical Society, Arts Council and Tourism have such diverse missions,” said Bob Blackburn, executive director of the Oklahoma Historical Society. “I see no advantage in consolidation.”

“Obviously, we were disappointed that it came out of committee, but encouraged that the vote was so close,” Amber Sharples, executive director of the Oklahoma Arts Council, said of the 6-5 vote by the House Government Modernization Committee. “We want to work and collaborate with the Department of Tourism and the Oklahoma Historical Society because we all work and strive to make our state better, but feel we would do that better as an independent agency.”

“Our mission is to support the state’s arts and cultural industry and serve the people who live and work in Oklahoma, whereas Tourism is different in that its mission is to bring in individuals from outside of the state in order to help with the economic vitality in Oklahoma,” Sharples said.

Vote was a surprise

Blackburn called Thursday’s committee vote a “surprise.”

The bill originally was going to be presented to the Senate Appropriations Committee, but it died there for lack of a hearing, he said.

State Rep. Jason Murphey, chairman of the Government Modernization Committee, resurrected the consolidation concept by inserting substitute language in House Bill 3028.

Murphey said he inserted the language at the request of of the governor.

Gov. Mary Fallin called for the consolidation of the Historical Society, Arts Council and three other agencies into the Tourism Department during her State of the State speech.

“We gave her the venue to keep talking about possibilities of efficiencies through administrative consolidation there,” Murphey said, adding that it remains to be seen whether the agencies would mesh well.

‘The bottom line’

“The bottom line is that, especially in a down revenue allotment year, any opportunities for new efficiencies by consolidating administrations should be looked at,” Murphey said.

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by Randy Ellis
Investigative Reporter
For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two...
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