Oklahoma State Department of Health chief financial officer resigns

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OKLAHOMA CITY – A top official at the center of an embattled state agency has resigned from his position.

On Thursday, officials with the Oklahoma State Department of Health confirmed to News 4 that Chief Financial Officer Mike Romero has resigned.

However, no other details were released.

“The Oklahoma State Department of Health confirms the resignation of CFO Mike Romero. The agency will not have any additional comment at this time,” an email from the department read.

Last month, 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.

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"The whole thing, from beginning to end, reminded me of various oppressive, totalitarian regimes in other parts of the world that have nothing to do with this country or the way that we operate with respect to our responsibility to the public and these funds," Romero said.

Romero took over as the Oklahoma State Department of Health's Chief Financial Officer in April of last year.

KFOR received a copy of Romero's resignation letter.

"Effective immediately, I hereby resign from the position of Chief  Financial Officer (CFO) of the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH). Although this is not an easy decision, I believe that I can no longer effectively perform the requirements of the job because the leadership of the agency is compromised as to areas of great financial concern to the State of Oklahoma as well as the Federal Government.

Yesterday, I provided a response Memo to the Interim Commissioner regarding various issues which affect the agency. This document included matters related to OSDH information technology expenditures which I believe are very serious concerns on multiple levels—especially in instituting the corrections required as expressed in the OSDH Corrective Action Report to the Legislature. This document was also provided to the State Auditor and Inspector and the House Investigative Committee.

After delivery of this memo in a one on one meeting, the Interim Commissioner revealed to me that the items in that memo did not coincide with the previous “testimony” of an OSDH employee. This employee had appeared before a formal investigative process currently underway by the State Attorney General and Federal Officials. The employee was under the clear indication from OSDH General Counsel that she was acting as the employee’s attorney in the matter and nonetheless, after the submission of my memo to the Interim Commissioner, he was apparently capable of fact checking my points with those made by the employee in that investigative meeting. Essentially, these actions show me that the Interim Commissioner is 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. These matters should be kept confidential by the General Counsel and yet this General Counsel has been present throughout the Grand Jury process.

Therefore, I believe that the process for the financial recovery for the OSDH is currently tainted with multiple conflicts of interest. Many of which impede the steps required for me to fully assist the agency as the CFO. Numerous important and on-going issues have already been highlighted by the former Chief Operating Officer, Deborah Nichols—especially those related to OSDH information technology expenditures. Ms. Nichols is a COO par excellence and one of the finest executive professionals I have ever been privileged to work with and the agency has suffered without her direction.

Finally, I wish to thank all of the wonderful people that work for the OSDH and deliver such an important mission to the citizens of the State of Oklahoma. They are the true heroes that work tirelessly to perform very difficult jobs and I sincerely give them my thanks. To all of the finance personnel; you are astounding people with skill and ability that match any of the finest professionals that I have ever worked with—may God bless you. In the best interests of the public in obtaining important information, I have made this most difficult decision."

Okla. Rep. Josh Cockroft, chair of the House of Representatives' Special Investigation Committee, released the following statement after Romero's resignation.

“The committee would like to thank Mr. Romero for his dedication to our state, and for the integrity he has displayed while working with our Investigative Committee. His willingness to work with our efforts, and better our state has not gone unnoticed. We are disappointed in the situation that has caused Mr. Romero to resign, but wish him great success in his next step of life.

“We have been told that the culture of deceit by leadership at OSDH has been changed for the better. While we hope this is true, allegations like what Mr. Romero made today point to a much different reality. According to Mr. Romero, he responded in writing to an earlier memo from Denise Northrup in which he challenged several of her statements, OSDH Interim Commissioner Preston Doerflinger came to his office and angrily voiced his displeasure with Mr. Romero for challenging Ms. Northrup’s memo. Having an interim commissioner lashing out in anger to an employee who was simply doing his job is concerning. It was then, according to Mr. Romero, that Doerflinger offered that Mr. Romero’s memo conflicted testimony another OSDH employee gave before the Attorney General’s grand jury, testimony which is supposed to be confidential. The possibility of agency leadership sharing confidential testimony from a grand jury proceeding is deeply troubling and unacceptable.”

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