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Public reprimand issued against Oklahoma Department of Human Services commissioner

BY MICHAEL MCNUTT mmcnutt@opubco.com Published: May 30, 2012
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A member of the Oklahoma Commission for Human Services said Tuesday evening he doesn't plan to step down after being publicly scolded for having a conflict of interest because he serves as executive director of a nonprofit agency that receives payments that include DHS subsidies for providing services to low-income children.

The state Ethics Commission issued a public letter of reprimand against Commissioner Steven Dow for serving on the oversight board of the Department of Human Services while also acting as chief executive officer of the Community Action Project in Tulsa.

The Community Action Project operates before-school and after-school day care and child education centers and contracts with DHS to provide services to low-income children, the letter states.

“I absolutely do not intend to resign,” Dow said.

He said his unpaid position with the Community Action Project was reviewed by the governor's legal staff when then-Gov. Brad Henry appointed him to the commission in February 2010.

“Gov. Henry's chief legal counsel investigated the matter and said there was not a violation of the Ethics Commission rules and there was nothing else that prohibited my being on the commission because that issue was raised at the time of my appointment — ‘Is that a conflict of interest?'” Dow said. “And the conclusion was, no, it's not a conflict of interest.

“I disclosed the information all along to all of the parties and stand by the position that there is not a conflict of interest,” he said.

“I abstain from anything that is directly relevant to CAP and will continue that practice so long as I am on the commission and so long as the commission is the governing body (of DHS).”

The Ethics Commission issued the public reprimand after meeting Tuesday in a closed session. The commission may issue a private reprimand, a public reprimand or a fine or file a lawsuit.

Marilyn Hughes, executive director of the commission, said commissioners are not empowered to make recommendations to DHS commissioners whether Dow should resign.

“The commission doesn't have the authority to force his resignation,” she said. “They issued a reprimand for his continuing violation of the rules.”

Brad Yarbrough, chairman of the Oklahoma Commission for Human Services, said his commission also can't seek Dow's removal.

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