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Oklahoma State Question 765 addresses changes at Department of Human Services

Voters will decide on Nov. 6 whether the nine member DHS commission should be disbanded and replaced by advisory boards, and the governor given authority to appoint the agency's director.
BY MEGAN ROLLAND mrolland@opubco.com Published: October 7, 2012
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Richard DeVaughn, a former commissioner who served nine years overseeing DHS, said State Question 765 is nothing more than a power grab by the governor and lawmakers, “which would essentially revert us back to the '20s and '30s when it was just pure political patronage.”

DeVaughn said the executive director would likely change with every new governor, and the position would no longer be held by professionals, but by those owed political favors.

“That director's job salary is say around $160,000,” said DeVaughn, who recently left the commission when his nine-year term ended. “So it's a pretty nice plum to hand out to someone.”

Treat said that the Senate must approve the governor's appointment and would guard against any strictly political appointees taking the office.

Considerable turnover

There has been considerable turnover on the commission in the past two years with some board members retiring, others resigning and one death.

Gov. Mary Fallin has now appointed six of the nine members.

Wes Lane, one of Fallin's appointees and current chairman, said he will leave the decision of whether to disband his commission entirely in the hands of voters.

“I really think this is just a function of the voters deciding whether they think the current commission is well engaged and doing their job,” Lane said.

“I'm at a different place than I was a year ago. I'm very upbeat about DHS. Everyone is on the same page, pulling the wagon in the same direction.

“I think that bodes very well, and whatever the entity is coming out of November, I'm confident that everyone will still pull the wagon in the right direction.”

He said advisory boards are wonderful if those in charge listen to the advice they give, and he said he has complete faith in the current governor to appoint a sound director.

The previous executive director, Howard Hendrick, retired in January, and Lane said the commission could replace him as soon as next week.

“We've been careful to work with the governor on that recognizing that any director that we as a commission chose would really ultimately need her approval knowing that she may well be in control of their destiny after the election,” Lane said.