OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – The Senate has approved legislation that would restore power to the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Commission.

According to officials, the Senate passed Senate Bill 11X, that would return power, including the ability to hire and fire the agency’s executive director and restoring oversight of contracts and financial expenditures.

In 2018, approved legislation gave most of the powers held by the commission to the executive director, and turned the commission into an advisory panel only. Appropriations Chair Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, said that a report issued in 2022 from the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency (LOFT) about expenditures by the agency looked into questionable spending and contracts with Swadley’s Foggy Bottom Kitchen.

“I’ve been concerned about this since the LOFT report raising questions about some $16 million in taxpayer funds,” Thompson said. “That same report recommended the restoration of oversight powers previously assigned to the Tourism Commission. I want to stress, this is not about personalities, this is about policy that will provide a critical check and balance in how taxpayer dollars are used.”

According to Thompson, SB 11X changes the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Commission by taking away its status as an advisory board. The members, appointed by the governor and subject to Senate confirmation, would be able to appoint an executive director and determine their salary, and could only be terminated by the governor with cause. Also, the board would have supervision of contracts.

Thompson says he praises Shelley Zumwalt, the current executive director of tourism, for working since her appointment to address the concerns raised in the LOFT report.

“I have the greatest respect for Shelley and complete confidence in her abilities and those of her team,” Thompson said. “These guardrails will ensure their dedication to transparency and accountability will continue in the years and decades to come. This is simply good public policy.”

SB 11X will now move to the House of Representatives for further consideration.

For more information, visit oksenate.gov.