A Useful Debate

Like all Tulsans I regret what happened on April 2, especially to the families involved.  Although the shooting was an accident, an accident that cannot be dismissed and will play out over coming weeks.

On the other hand it brings to light facts that most of us – even those politically involved – never knew.  It is those areas which need to get attention if solutions are ever to take place to make Oklahoma more competitive and a great place to live.

That area is the county government system which has avoided meaningful change for 34 years. County government – like the 517 school districts – can be reformed by the legislature if it wanted to.

When the Legislature – which had approved Common Core in 2010 – changed its mind, those who disagreed were blown away, even the governor. Now, new teaching standards must be written and more money spent.  Oklahoma lost five years of progress in the process.

Every Oklahoma Republican politician knew if they voted for Common Core, they should update their resume and prepare to join the private sector.  It was that divisive.

County government needs reform.  The Association of County Commissioners of Oklahoma cannot do it alone regardless which political party is in charge.

One needs to recall the 1981 scene when county commissioners went to prison or were  removed from office for taking kickbacks or accepting bribes.  All in all, more than 70 sitting commissioners resigned.  Sixty-nine of Oklahoma’s 77 counties had commissioners resign and 13 counties lost all their commissioners.

The irony was that no county commissioner was ever indicted by an Oklahoma district attorney.

The feds did the heavy lifting.

Bill Price was U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma. He handled most of the cases.  Frank Keating was U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Oklahoma and made the statement that the county commissioners probably stole enough money to rebuild all of Oklahoma’s bridges twice over.

Many of Oklahoma’s 77 counties have less population than at statehood.  Each segment of county government is independently elected. There is an assessor, clerk, treasurer, sheriff, district attorney and three commissioners.

Each office holder hires their staff and makes independent decisions. There is little outside supervision for these independently run fiefdoms.

A recent example as just how inbred the process is was an op-ed piece written by former Tulsa Police Chief Ron Palmer.

The article was captioned, “Low Bid not the Best for Investigation.”

In the short version, the Tulsa County Commissioners had just selected Community Safety Institute to investigate the Tulsa County Sheriff’s office. The sheriff’s office, according to the article, saw CSI “as someone they wanted to conduct the organizational review.”

CSI primarily does school safety consultations.  They are known for picking volleyball kneepads, earplugs, motor cycle jackets, duck hunting waders, etc.  Chief Palmer does say, “ The CSI website does correctly state its expertise in the field of law-enforcement training, but the site does not provide any real feel of its expertise or capability to conduct management or operational audits in a large multifaceted law enforcement entity.” The commissioners never should have picked a consultant that the sheriff’s office wanted.  How cozy is that?

Another example where the law needs revision is allowing the sheriff to pick friends to appraise delinquent tax properties.  These individuals need no formal training or qualifications and stand to earn thousands of dollars for a few hours work. This is not right, but it is legal.

As Sheriff Glanz holds on, perhaps other facts will come to light and by next year, the legislature will take steps to reign in county government and its costs.