Fate of DHS Commission in Voters’ Hands
A state question heading to voters this November would effectively abolish the Commission which oversees the Department of Human Services.
Supporters say it will help with oversight of the state’s largest agency, but opponents worry it puts too much control in the hands of the governor.
The nine Members of the Commission of Human Services are meeting as they have since the board’s inception in 1936.
The commission votes to set its monthly meetings for the next year, but no one on the board knows whether the meetings will even take place.
That’s because of State Question 765 to end the Commission and put control of the Department of Human Services in the hands of the governor.
For years the commission has faced tough problems especially with three high profile deaths of children going back to 2005.
But, newly appointed Chairman Wes Lane says the board’s been fixing the problems over the past year and a half.
“When we came in there was a lawsuit. The public was in an uproar over child deaths taking place, and I think we’re in a much better place today.”
But some say Oklahoma’s system is simply outdated.
The commission system was created in the 1930s to meet federal government requirements, but today, Oklahoma is the only state that still uses it.
That’s where Senator Greg Treat comes in.
He saw the problems in the agency and the outdated governing system, and that led him to author the bill that eventually became State Question 765.
So, what would it really do?
While the state question says it would abolish the DHS.
It actually just takes the agency out of the constitution and moves it into statute so the governing structure can be altered by lawmakers.
“Some individuals have not differentiated between the commission and the agency. The commission’s a nine member board that over sees it. We are not doing away with DHS. We have no desire to do away with DHS. It’s a core function of government that we need to be doing, but we need to be doing much better.”
If state question 765 passes, four advisory panels would take the commission’s place.
The Governor and legislative leadership would appoint five members to each panel.
But after that, some people think the details about the new governing structure are a little vague.
Doctor George Young served on the commission for six years and says those unanswered questions are among the reasons why he opposes State Question 765.
“Are they going to have a chair? How are they going to be organized? There’s a lot things that are left up to the governor to do. And so what you’re going to end up having is not only the governor running the state of Oklahoma, but in particular the governor’s going to be ultimately responsible for running DHS.”
Representative Richard Morrisette’s been working for years to reform the agency, but even he says he didn’t want to abolish the commission.
The Oklahoma City Democrat says State Question 765, if it passes, would put too much responsibility on the shoulder of the Governor.
“If I was a sitting governor at the time that this law came into effect, or this state question, why would I want that responsibility? Because if this thing blows up again, who are they going to blame? They’re going to blame the governor.”
So we decided to ask Governor Mary Fallin why she was in support of this state question.
Fallin says she’s already facing tough scrutiny right now without the new responsibilities.
“I want to be able to make changes that we need to be able to make sure we have the best people possible in place we have the best systems as possible, we have accountability. We have transparency. The public’s voice is listened to, heard.”
Governor Fallin was given a voice in the recent hiring of new Director Ed Lake.
Commissioners say it sets up an important transition if the state question passes because Lake would report to the governor.
Back at the Commission meeting, the board has decided on its 2013 schedule, still not knowing if those meetings will take place.
Although Chairman Lane appreciates the work the board has done to make changes in the agency, he says he will go with whatever the voters decide.
“If the citizens don’t want us around than I will have bought back a great deal of my personal free time, and so if they choose to keep us we will continue doing what the governor told us to do which is, dad gum it provide some oversight over this outfit.”
The measure will be on the general election ballot November 6th.
While some have brought up the issue of whether DHS would exist if State Question 765 passes, a memo has been released telling agency employees they still must report to work on November 7th regardless of the outcome.