OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma State Department of Health is firing back after shocking allegations from the former chief financial officer of the agency.
Last month, Health Department CFO Mike Romero appeared before a special House Investigative Committee amid allegations of financial mismanagement within the agency.
Romero testified that he was able to determine the agency was nearly $30 million in the hole, and notified commissioners. However, he said he found agency practices odd and was concerned that the agency’s leadership wasn’t taking his reports and the financial situation seriously.
Last week, Romero resigned from his position.
Romero said in his resignation letter he could no longer do the job effectively because “the leadership of the agency is compromised.”
In his letter, he said Interim Health Commissioner Preston Doerflinger confronted him regarding his response to a memo about financial mismanagement at the agency. Romero said Doerflinger was angry his response did not coincide with what another employee had said in a “testimony” as part of “a formal investigative process currently underway by the State Attorney General and Federal Officials.”
Romero accuses the “Interim Commissioner,” or Doerflinger, of “using others, including his General Counsel, to stay abreast of the proceedings and to analyze the financial communications provided by me with this compromising activity.”
Now, the Department of Health is addressing Romero’s claims.
“Last week, former OSDH Chief Financial Officer Mike Romero tendered his resignation via letter that he immediately made public. This letter made some very strong false accusations against multiple members of the OSDH Leadership team. Although we have always tried to be positive and forward-looking as we right the course of the agency, due to the serious nature of many of the statements in Mr. Romeo’s letter, and because we operate in fact, not baseless innuendo, we are providing the following response.
Over the past few weeks, OSDH Leadership has become aware of multiple concerns regarding our Chief Financial Officer Mike Romero’s administration of OSDH’s Financial Services division. Specifically, we became aware of procurement delays, instances in which posting payments are 3-4 weeks delayed, and receivables and payables are not timely addressed. On January 26, 2018, OSDH was notified the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission is terminating our ability to pay reimbursement costs for former OSDH employees who receive unemployment benefits. OSDH failed to pay approximately $26,343, including one invoice due as recently as November 27, 2017.
Information relevant to these and other significant issues was not being elevated by Mr. Romero to either the Interim Commissioner or others for review or action. As leadership began a dialogue with Mr. Romero to address these issues, he began reacting defensively and aggressively, as is evidenced by his January 28, 2018, response to Denise Northrup’s memo. The memo detailed the proper payroll processes OMES and OSDH Leadership, including Mr. Romero, had previously agreed upon. Mr. Romero’s independent response to a memo addressed to Commissioner Doerflinger was shocking- never before had Romero voiced criticism of various agency personnel and projects. Because of this out of character response, Interim Commissioner Doerflinger asked Mr. Romero to meet with him in the Commissioner’s office on Wednesday, January 31st. The purpose for the in person meeting was to gain an understanding of Romero’s abrupt change in behavior and the issues with Mr. Romero’s management of the Financial Services division.
As detailed in his resignation letter, it was at this meeting Mr. Romero contends Interim Commissioner informed him that his allegations in his responsive memo did not coincide with the ‘testimony’ of another OSDH employee. Mr. Romero then alleges OSDH General Counsel, Julie Ezell, must have breached some sort of confidentiality in order for the Interim Commissioner to know the allegations in Mr. Romero’s memo were incorrect. This allegation is categorically false. Rather, multiple members of OSDH leadership were able to immediately identify the factual errors and inconsistencies in Mr. Romero’s responsive memo on the face of the document due to their knowledge of the OSDH payroll process and all of the relevant facts of the past few months. This information is known to multiple people in the agency by virtue of their job duties and as we work to correct errors made by the previous administration.
Interim Commissioner Doerflinger and Ms. Ezell are both very disappointed Mr. Romero made such unfounded and threatening accusations against them as they have both worked tirelessly to support Mr. Romero and the important work he has done at OSDH. Regardless of current circumstances, Mr. Romero played a key role in bringing to light financial problems at OSDH and the agency will always be better off because of his intervention.
Equally disappointing is the response of the Special Investigation Committee Chairman Josh Cockroft to this series of events. Chairman Cockroft was apparently eager to take as fact all of the allegations made by Mr. Romero against Interim Commissioner Doerflinger and OSDH General Counsel Julie Ezell, without any attempt to verify the accusations or engage Doerflinger and Ezell in dialogue. After Mr. Romero’s resignation, Chairman Cockroft indicates that Mr. Romero immediately came to Chairman Cockroft’s office to discuss his resignation. Chairman Cockroft almost immediately took to social media to spread false facts including stating that Interim Commissioner Doerflinger was “shaking in rage towards a state employee for simply doing his job.” Additionally, Chairman Cockroft again raised the possibility of Ms. Ezell “sharing confidential testimony from a grand jury proceeding” on social media without an attempt to first contact Ms. Ezell to discuss the absurd allegation. Much faith and trust has been put into the Special Investigative Committee to represent the interests of Oklahomans in making recommendations to ensure the type of mismanagement conducted by previous OSDH administration does not reoccur. It is deeply troubling that rather than being focused on ascertaining the truth, the Chairman of the Committee immediately takes as true slanderous allegations with no attempt to verify their accuracy.
OSDH leadership is continuing to work as quickly as possible to rectify the financial mismanagement of the agency. Immediately, the agency will be beginning the process to issue a request for proposals to engage a firm to conduct a full financial audit in light of previous and recent concerns. Additionally, Chief Operating Officer Kim Bailey will oversee the Financial Services division and work with the outstanding staff in that division, as we work to identify and rectify all outstanding issues. We will maintain our course of transparency and fiscal efficiency as we continue our task of righting and right-sizing the agency.”