Oklahoma state county commissioners' safety conference is family affair

What do an Elvis impersonator, an inflatable Hulk and a motor grader blade have in common? All were featured during a safety conference for county commissioners and their employees and families.
by Andrew Knittle and Randy Ellis Published: August 3, 2012

What do an Elvis impersonator, a giant inflatable Hulk and a motor grader blade have in common?

All were featured attractions during a two-day safety conference for county commissioners, their employees and families hosted by the Association of County Commissioners of Oklahoma.

“Safety is my passion. I'll try everything to get that message across,” said Gayle Ward, executive director of the Association of County Commissioners of Oklahoma.

Ward had to speak loudly Thursday to be heard over the squeals and laughter of children as they bounced around on inflatable contraptions and tried their luck at assorted games at an indoor carnival.

Commissioners and county employees had been encouraged to bring their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

The carnival was constructed inside a meeting room at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Norman. A giant green Hulk lurked over an inflatable slide, competing for attention with Rumble, mascot of the Oklahoma City Thunder NBA basketball team, who was busy signing posters and posing for photographs.

The night before, Elvis impersonator Brent Giddens entertained guests.

Ward said it's not always easy to build enthusiasm among county commissioners and employees to attend a summer safety conference. Many are reluctant to leave their families when children are out of school for the summer, she said.

Making the conference a family affair has done wonders to promote attendance.

“We had about 1,500 preregister,” Ward said. “That's the most we've ever had.”

Several county commissioners rented buses and brought some of their crews and their families with them, she said.

The thought of paying for all those people to attend a two-day conference and the lost work production may have some Oklahoma taxpayers cringing.

Ward insisted such concerns are misplaced.

“The cost is minimal to the counties,” she said. “The conference pays for itself.”

Vendors pay to rent booth space in the hallway and to exhibit road construction vehicles in the parking lot. That defrays much of the cost of the conference, she said.

County commissioners and elected officials pay a $95 registration fee, and county employees pay a $35 registration fee. Ward said those fees are among the lowest in the country.

Hotel's room rates ranged from $77 for single or double occupancy to $97 for a four-person room. While registration and lodging fees for commissioners and county employees can be passed on to taxpayers, extra costs associated with their families are their personal responsibilities, officials said.

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by Andrew Knittle
Investigative Reporter
Andrew Knittle has covered state water issues, tribal concerns and major criminal proceedings during his career as an Oklahoma journalist. He has won reporting awards from the state's Associated Press bureau and prides himself on finding a real...
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by Randy Ellis
Capitol Bureau 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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