OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – The powers of the Tourism Commission might get their control back after an Oklahoma Senator filed a bill to change the current structure.
Right now, the Governor appoints the executive director, and that director has full control of the department. The commission is just an advisory board.
Senator Roger Thompson, Republican from Okemah, filed SB4 to bring back more checks and balances.
“You have an entity that’s able to go out and spend millions of dollars and millions of dollars that are unaccounted for,” said Thompson, referring to Tourism making deals with Swadley’s to manage the state park restaurants. “Those are not my dollars. Those are taxpayer dollars.”
His bill restores power to the commission — a commission that is appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate.
They would oversee making contracts, fixing compensations, and hiring and firing of the executive director.
“We need more eyes on those taxpayer dollars to make sure they’re spent well,” said the Republican senator. “That would be the commission’s responsibility to do that.”
In 2018, the Legislature voted to create the streamlined power, from Governor to executive director. Senator Thompson was one of the lawmakers that voted “yea.”
“What we thought would work in 2018 – 2019 didn’t work,” said Thompson.
As the Co-Chair of the Legislative Oversight Committee, he had a firsthand account into the investigation by LOFT. The legislative watchdog group investigated the contract between the Tourism Department and Swadley’s. Over $15 million was deemed as questionable spending.
Ryan Martinez, Republican lawmaker from Edmond, is on the same committee. He also voted “yea” in 2018 for the power structure change.
“The idea was that this would create more efficiency and allow for maybe less chefs in the kitchen,” said Martinez.
The lawmaker realizes now that it was a mistake, and said there is an appetite for more oversight at the department.
“I’ve had a conversation with many members who want to make sure that we’re setting up an accountability system that makes sure that people’s dollars are protected,” said the Republican from Edmond.
Charles McCall, Republican Speaker of the House, said he expects more bills like Thompson’s to be filed before the December 9th deadline.
KFOR asked the Governor’s office for their perspective on this new bill, but they declined to comment.
Thompson’s bill does have one new addition to the commission. It allows for more job security.
Tourism Commissioners could only be fired “with cause,” instead of serving at the pleasure of the Governor.
This year, we have seen controversy at the Veterans Commission due to the commissioners serving at the pleasure of the governor.
Thompson said it would be good policy to implement a “with cause” clause in other controlling commissions.
“We need to advocate for policy over politics,” said Thompson. “If you can just remove a commissioner who disagrees with me, then we’re back in the politics and we’re not in policy.”