LAST week, Oklahoma Department of Human Services Director Ed Lake canceled 10 contracts that had been awarded to private agencies hired to help find and keep more foster families.
Expanding the pool of foster families is a priority for DHS and an important part of a reform plan borne out of the settlement of a federal class-action lawsuit against the agency. But there were problems with how the program got off the ground.
Among other things, the contracts proved to be confusing for some providers and would-be providers, and some of the financial penalty provisions were overly harsh. Lawmakers heard from other provider agencies that were displeased with the competitive selection process.
The bids for the contracts had been received before Lake took over Nov. 1. He could have simply left not-so-well-enough alone — indeed, Lake said his decision was no reflection on the work done by those that were awarded contracts. But instead he is starting over because “the downside of going forward under these conditions outweigh the benefits” for those agencies and DHS.
Four legislators closely involved in DHS issues supported the move. It will slow the process of finding groups to recruit, train and support foster families, they said, but standing pat would have yielded “significantly worse results over the long run.”
Six months into a very difficult job, Lake is displaying the kind of leadership taxpayers ought to applaud.
Last year several candidates demanded recounts in races lost decisively. After losing the Oklahoma County sheriff's race by about 75,000 votes, Republican Darrell Sorrels requested a recount. After 14 of 256 precincts were recounted, he closed the gap with incumbent John Whetsel — by a single vote. Fortunately, Sorrels then dropped his request. In a Wagoner County court clerk's race, the runner-up in the Republican Party runoff lost nearly 2-1 and still requested a recount. While those seeking a recount pay a $600 deposit for the first 3,000 ballots recounted and $600 for each additional 6,000 ballots, the process still requires significant manpower resources from local election officials. Lawmakers are trying to discourage frivolous recounts by doubling the required deposit when the margin of victory is greater than 10 percent. That's a good idea that will still allow valid recounts but discourage expenditures on political sour grapes.
No tanks to you?
The Keystone XL pipeline protesters who've been idiotically chaining themselves to construction equipment should perhaps consider chaining themselves to railroad tanker cars. But that would be dangerous. Instead, they take the safe and easy method outlined in the protest manuals supplied them by environmental groups. Two Oklahomans were arrested this week on the Keystone route, the latest in a line of protester arrests. The new chant for anti-pipeline activists is “Remember the Mayflower!” This is a reference to the rupture of an aging pipeline in Arkansas in recent days. Keystone is a state-of-the-art pipeline being built between Cushing and the Gulf Coast. Nary a peep was heard from the greenies when a train derailed last month, spilling thousands of gallons of crude oil in western Minnesota. Here's the truth that protesters need to chain themselves to: If oil isn't piped underground, it will be transported over land in trucks and trains. This is a much riskier proposition for the environment. For the protesters, though, Keystone has the cachet they need to get attention for their pointless behavior.
A wise decision
The state received a $64.8 million payment this week from U.S. tobacco companies, which have been writing similar checks to Oklahoma since 1999. In fact the latest payment put Oklahoma over the $1 billion mark in money received as part of an agreement settling a lawsuit filed by 46 states over costs tied to tobacco-related illnesses. The payments will continue as long as tobacco products are sold. In 2000, Oklahoma voters wisely approved the creation of a trust fund to hold onto the bulk of the settlement money and use the fund's earnings for health-related purposes. The fund's balance stands at $797 million, and since 2001, more than $151 million in earnings have been realized. No other state protected its money; as a result, their tobacco payments go out as quickly as they come in, used for any number of nonhealth-related reasons.
Open mouth ...
During debate on a bill, state Rep. Dennis Johnson, R-Duncan, said customer service gives small businesses like his an edge over big stores and chains, even though customers might try to “Jew me down on a price.” Johnson, 59, later said he grew up hearing that scurrilous phrase but didn't know why he used it. It “just came out of one of the wrinkles of my brain and was not something that was intentional.” His excuse might hold more water except that he was speaking on the floor of the Oklahoma House, where one expects a modicum of thought to accompany the proceedings. And it might fly better if Johnson had immediately corrected himself. Instead he continued his debate until a colleague pointed out what he had said. “Did I?” Johnson responded. Then, smiling, he added, “I apologize to the Jews. They're good small businessmen as well.” No doubt the Jews will be glad to hear that.
We've previously praised SHINE (Start Helping Impacted Neighborhoods Everywhere), a program launched by Oklahoma County Commissioner Brian Maughan that sentences low-level offenders to remove graffiti, haul away trash and clear brush in blighted areas. The program saves the county money by easing crowding at the county jail and providing free labor for jobs that otherwise would be done by county work crews. State lawmakers apparently see the value of the program, because they've approved a new law extending the program to deadbeat parents. Under House Bill 2166, courts can require individuals who owe child support to work two eight-hour days per week in programs like SHINE. “Working two days a week picking up litter or painting over graffiti might just provide the motivation some of these nonpaying parents need,” Maughan said. We certainly hope so. If not, at least the community will be cleaner as a result.
Legislation addressing drought-related challenges has been sent to the governor to be signed into law. House Bill 1923 would create the Emergency Drought Relief Fund and an Emergency Drought Commission. After an emergency drought declaration is issued, the commission will recommend fund expenditures to the governor. That group's members include the executive director of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission, the secretary of agriculture, and the executive director of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board. Money placed in the fund could be used for things like pond cleanup and construction; water conservation in agriculture; providing water for livestock; rural fire suppression activities; red cedar eradication; soil conservation; emergency infrastructure conservation; and other activities. We endorsed this proposal, which is simply a good management effort to prepare for potential drought challenges. Hopefully, the drought will break this summer and the fund won't be needed.