OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – A debacle at the Department of Veterans Affairs has forced the Oklahoma State Attorney General to weigh in, saying Governor Kevin Stitt “has not followed the proper appointment process.”
For months there has been controversy between the Joel Kintsel, Executive Director of the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Veterans Commission, the controlling board of the department.
A commission meeting was scheduled for Friday at 10am. It was scrapped because Kintsel directed ODVA staff to not cooperate.
“The executive director had directed his staff not to cooperate with us to prevent them from posting the agenda and in effect, scuttling today’s meeting,” said Rob Allen, Chairman of the Veterans Commission.
The executive director said the AG’s opinion made it clear that the commission is made up members appointed unlawfully, therefore the commission shouldn’t meet at all.
On Thursday, AG Drummond released a statement saying Governor Stitt “has not followed the lawfully ascribed process,” when removing and replacing three commission members.
“This entire episode has been nothing short of a spectacle,” said Drummond, in the statement. “It is unfortunate that the Governor has not followed the proper appointment process, and it is equally unfortunate that the executive director of the state Department of Veterans Affairs is acting irresponsibly and not in the best interests of veterans.”
The battle between Kintsel and the commission stems from the Republican Primary in the summer of 2022.
Kintsel ran for governor against incumbent Kevin Stitt.
In the months after the election, the Governor replaced all but one of the nine commissioners.
That left Kintsel, who retained his position as Executive Director of ODVA, with a new controlling board, and he claimed it was political retaliation.
Chairman Allen showed up to the ODVA building Friday but was told there would be no access to perform the scheduled meeting.
“We’re just being obstructed from, from doing our job,” said Allen.
The chairman was asked about Kintsel’s claims of political retaliation.
“I’ve never received a mandate of any kind from the Governor’s office,” said Allen. “When I was offered the opportunity to serve on this commission, I was told to vote my conscience.”
The big disagreement in recent months has come over a project at a veterans home in Sallisaw.
Around $21 million in damages was accumulated by one of ODVA’s contractors.
The Governor’s new appointed commissioners have scrutinized the costs and called into question Kintsel’s ability to lead the department.
Kintsel said the State’s ability to recover the money is now harmed because of the new commissioners, “on what was otherwise an open and shut case.”
Drummond is confident that the legislature can resolve this stalemate.
House Bill 1080 would scrap the Governor’s appointment power from all nine members down to two.
Rep. Jay Steagall, Republican from Yukon, is the author and said Friday, once he gets a Senate co-author it could only take a matter of days before the bill becomes law.
The big question moving forward has to do with maintaining veterans services during this period of turmoil.
Kintsel said right now, no services are in jeopardy of being delayed or harmed.