THE high-profile resignation of one of his top aides taught Department of Public Safety Commissioner Michael Thompson a tough but valuable lesson: Do your homework.
Scott Barger, Thompson's executive assistant, resigned Feb. 13 soon after it was reported that Barger had been fired from the Department of Corrections in 1995 for his role in the beatings of handcuffed black inmates at the prison in Lexington. Thompson didn't know about the incident.
“The thing that I've tried to do since I've been here is try to do the right thing,” Thompson told The Oklahoman's editorial board this week. “I really was trying to do the right thing with that.”
He felt Barger, a high school classmate, would be an asset after moving over from the highway safety division. An assumption was made that Barger's background had been checked — he had also spent 10 years in a leadership position at the Oklahoma Public Employees Association.
“I made that, and that was totally my mistake,” Thompson said.
He initially told the Tulsa World he would have hired Barger even if he had known about the 1995 incident. That struck a bad chord. Loyalty is admirable, to a point. Now, Thompson told us, “Even if there's someone I think that I know, I need to do a better job of vetting them.” Taxpayers deserve that. They should accept and be encouraged by Thompson's mea culpa.
The meaning of “cruel and unusual” punishment has been defined down over the years by death penalty opponents. A result is the long slog from beheading by ax or sword to the guillotine to the firing squad and hanging to the gas chamber and electric chair to, finally, lethal injection. Pressure on companies that make the drugs used in executions has led to a shortage; this may result in a reversal of sorts. If Oklahoma can't get the drugs, it could legally resort to the electric chair or firing squad. Since the state has no electric chair (and isn't likely to put out bids for one), that leaves the bullet. Perhaps this is the true intent of the anti-capital punishment forces — to take executions back in time to what the people might consider an unacceptable alternative. If so, we pity the first death row inmates who face a firing squad while adverse public opinion catches up with the fallback method to put coldblooded killers to death. Will those inmates beg for the needle instead, only to be told that their “friends” on the outside have loaded the rifle by unloading the syringe?
One cabbage at a time, Oklahoma third-graders are learning hands-on lessons in responsibility and nutrition. Last year more than 11,000 participated in the Bonnie Plants Cabbage Program by tending their very own plants. For a state that's 50th in consumption of fruits and vegetables, this unique educational opportunity is a great way to teach kids where vegetables come from and that they can have success at gardening. The program uses oversized cabbages so the growing process is even more fun. Oklahoma's winner got a $1,000 college scholarship; her family enjoyed four meals from the more than 6-pound produce. In other words, two best in state cabbages would easily outweigh the Best in Show Pekingese from last week's Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. Let's hope the seeds planted in these children will produce a harvest of health in coming seasons.
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