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Unapproved severance packages prompted firing of Oklahoma Teachers Retirement system executive

by Randy Ellis Published: October 14, 2013

Board members said based on the information they have received to date, they believe the statute that was violated was a civil matter rather than a criminal matter, so they have not felt the need to contact law enforcement authorities.

Trustees said they have requested an audit and will await the results of that audit before deciding whether any further action is needed.

Trustees said they wanted to reassure teachers, retirees and taxpayers that the retirement system remains “sound and will not be impacted by this matter.”

Wilbanks' failure to obtain approval for the severance plan from the director of the state Office of Management and Enterprise Services would appear to be particularly sensitive since agency Director Preston Doerflinger also serves on the Board of Trustees of the Teachers Retirement System.

Among other things, the Office of Management and Enterprise Services is supposed to review severance plans to make sure those plans demonstrate that funds are available to cover projected costs and contain estimates of anticipated cost savings or reduced expenditures.

For the most part, Wilbanks said severance packages were offered to individuals when it was possible to eliminate positions and save the system money by operating more efficiently.

“One of the many things we accomplished at Teachers Retirement during my tenure was finding some efficiencies,” he said. “When I first arrived, we had 52 full-time employees, and when I departed, I believe we were at 33.”

By operating with fewer employees, the agency has saved much more on salaries than it spent on severance payments.

“I think everyone who knows me knows that I am a straight shooter,” he said. “I absolutely poured my heart and soul into working every day on behalf of the teachers, to protect their retirement and do everything we could to give them the best retirement that we could under the provisions of the law.”