THE Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association is losing its fight to keep the Legislature out of its business. News stories such as the one published Sunday in The Oklahoman are sure to hurt the cause even more.
Reporter Nolan Clay detailed how the OSSAA, which governs high school sports and other extracurricular activities, has for years been doling out passes to playoff games to lawmakers who ask for them. It also occasionally sends “alerts” to administrators asking them to contact legislators on the association’s behalf.
The idea that these football and basketball playoff passes are on par with a “bribe,” as the primary legislative critic of the OSSAA suggests, is ridiculous. If that’s the case, then so too are tickets to OU and OSU football games, or Thunder games, or dinners, which many entities regularly provide lawmakers.
More troubling is that the OSSAA hasn’t been reporting the gifts to the state Ethics Commission. Executive Director Ed Sheakley said two lobbyists formerly used by the OSSAA had checked with ethics officials to ensure the rules were followed; the lobbyists, both veterans at their jobs, said they knew nothing about the ticket giveaways and that they hadn’t contacted the Ethics Commission about them.
Something doesn’t add up here. An organization that lays out the rules and regulations for schools to follow must do a better job adhering to the rules that it’s supposed to follow.
Indeed, the fact the OSSAA recently began employing lobbyists is a bit off-putting. The organization first did so in 2011, hiring two lobbyists who have since dropped the OSSAA as clients. The association’s current lobbyist is paid $2,000 per month. Parents and fans might prefer that the $5 they shell out to attend playoff events go to other causes.
The OSSAA no doubt has decided it needs lobbyists to help fend off the Legislature, or at least try to educate lawmakers about the association. The spotlight has been focused on the organization by freshman state Rep. Bobby Cleveland, R-Slaughterville, who last year led public hearings at which parents, coaches and others criticized the association’s practices. Cleveland also is no fan of Sheakley, saying after one hearing that “the director is so egotistical, he thinks he’s above everybody.”
Cleveland recently blasted the OSSAA for sending a “legislative alert” asking for administrators’ help in defeating a bill by Cleveland that would force the association to adhere to state open record and open meeting laws, and get a performance audit every five years. He said the playoff passes for lawmakers are “like a bribe.”
The passes had been handed out for decades before the OSSAA drew Cleveland’s attention; lawmakers were glad to request them (the limit is two). In the past two school years, Clay reported, more than 140 passes were given.
Those passes apparently haven’t swayed legislators. Cleveland’s bill was approved 51-38; a Senate bill, requiring the OSSAA to submit a copy of its annual report and audit to the governor and legislative leaders, passed in the Senate on a 37-8 vote.
Given the current climate — Cleveland’s effective messaging, coupled with a state Supreme Court ruling in October that was highly critical of the OSSAA’s procedures — final passage is likely for both these bills. The OSSAA is in the cross hairs. If it doesn’t want to remain there, it could begin by doing a better job following rules already on the books.