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The McCarville Report
Category archives for: State Government

ODOT Employees Send Offensive Emails On State Time

Arthur Kane | Watchdog.org

Oklahoma Department of Transportation employees are supposed to keep the roads safe and clear, but some also used state time and resources to send out potentially offensive emails that referred to the president as an “Ass hole” and mocked overweight people.

Watchdog.org obtained the emails as part of a 10,000-page open records request response for a story on employee complaints about the state’s compressed natural gas fleet. Despite mentioning trucks, the inappropriate emails were not relevant to any work-related activity, according to ODOT spokesman Cody Boyd.

Photo obtained through open records request

INAPPROPRIATE EMAIL: An Oklahoma state employee sent out this picture with a joke email that the agency spokesman said violated state policy. (Photo modified to protect woman’s identity.)

“The e-mails in question are in conflict with the agency’s e-mail policy, as they are an inappropriate use of state time and resources,” he wrote in an email statement. “ODOT has been working and is working on improving the e-mail policy and educating employees about it.”

One email in April 2012 from one ODOT employee to another joked about a new truck’s voice-controlled stereo that would bring up a Willie Nelson or Ray Charles song whenever the driver said the singer’s name. But when the driver yelled “Ass hole” at other motorists who had just cut him off, the voice on the radio played: “Ladies and gentlemen, The President of The United States.”

“Damn I love this truck….,” the joke ended.

In 2014, a different ODOT employee sent a joke to an outside account about an overweight woman throwing off her clothes and telling the narrator to take anything he wants. The narrator takes her truck. “Bubba, yore a smart man! Them clothes woulda never fit you!” the joke ends.

Attached to the email was this picture. Both jokes appeared in several other ODOT accounts, but apparently those were sent from the outside so it’s not clear if the state employees sanctioned the email or someone sent the email without the employees’ knowledge or consent.

There was also a joke in state email accounts that talked about a “carload of bearded, young, loud Muslims, shouting anti-American slogans, with a half- burned American Flag duct taped on the trunk of their car and a ‘Remember 9-11 slogan spray painted on the side.’” The car of Muslims pulls into traffic and gets demolished by an 18-wheeler truck, killing everyone inside.

“I sat in my car thinking to myself, ‘Man… that could have been me!’ So today; bright and early, I went out and got a job as a truck driver,” the joke ends.

Boyd wrote that that email came from outside the agency and was not sent by a state employee, but the state directed staff to avoid such future waste of taxpayer-funded work time.

“At the recent employee meetings held statewide, workers were reminded of their responsibility as state employees to use their e-mail accounts in a professional manner,” he wrote in the email.

Watchdog.org sent emails requesting comment to the employees who sent out the questionable email jokes, but they didn’t respond to attempts to contact them.


No Child Left Behind Waiver Good News, But…

moniesOklahoma Educated Workforce Initiative Executive Director Jennifer Monies released the following statement following the announcement that Oklahoma’s waiver from federal No Child Left Behind mandates has been reinstated:

“While it is good news that schools will have more flexibility on how to spend some federal education dollars, today’s announcement doesn’t change the need for more rigorous education standards in Oklahoma.

“Making sure that every child is ready for college or a career upon completion of high school is the best way to plan for Oklahoma’s economic future. We need to challenge our students to exceed expectations and goals. Settling for the bare minimum requirements is not in the best interest of our students or their future. I am confident Oklahoma students can and will rise to any challenge put before them.

“As Oklahoma starts the standards writing process, the business community stands ready and willing to help so that our education system aligns with our state’s current and future workforce needs. As the process moves forward, I urge the Legislature to set politics aside in order to keep high expectations at the heart of such a critical issue.”


What Baseball Can Teach Government

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G. T. Bynum & Preston Doerflinger

The baseball book and movie “Moneyball” have a great scene about management evaluating prospective players for the Oakland Athletics’ 2002 roster.

In the movie, player scouts huddle in a conference room obsessing over players’ individual traits: Batting stance, swing style, throwing motion — even looks.

General manager Billy Beane is unimpressed. Beane, played by Brad Pitt, criticizes scouts for failing to recognize that Oakland, a small market team with limited resources, won’t succeed if it develops rosters as it has in the past.

A frustrated scout complains: “With all due respect, we’ve been doing this a long time … let us do our jobs.”

Beane disagrees, declaring: “You’re just talking like this is business as usual — we’ve got to think differently.”

That season, Beane’s staff reinvented player evaluation. Using strategic, data-driven metrics to guide roster selection, Oakland won its division, set a win-streak record and stayed competitive with teams boasting player payrolls nearly three times their size. Today, every team in baseball uses Beane’s “moneyball” approach.

City and state governments in Oklahoma face challenges similar to those Beane faced in 2002. Demands for core government services are increasing, but limited revenue exists to meet them. Needs may go unmet unless government takes new approaches to budgeting its limited resources.

For decades, government budgeting has focused too much on what is spent instead of the outcome of that spending. It’s not that different than baseball scouting of yesteryear that focused more on batting stances and throwing motions than whether players got on base, scored runs and helped teams win.

That’s why we, in our roles at Tulsa City Hall and the state Capitol, are encouraging new, data-informed, outcome-driven approaches to budgeting. Many call it moneyball government, and it may well be the next great wave of government reform since it positively affects all areas of public policy.

The city of Tulsa, through a national fellowship, is bringing moneyball approaches to city operations. This should help the city overcome ongoing budget challenges by rethinking how to fund and measure effectiveness of city services.

Moneyball government acknowledges that taxpayer resources are finite and encourages policymakers to more intelligently use resources they have rather than seeking more tax revenue.

In state government, this approach has already started. Implementation of performance budgeting — a more formal term for moneyball government — began in September, when agencies were required to begin submitting annual budget and program performance data in a format aligned with measurable statewide goals.

Reviewing this data holistically allows us to look across all agencies and determine whether resources allocated to specific goals are effectively helping reach those goals. If they aren’t, the state can repurpose spending to better meet those goals based on objective data instead of gut feelings and arbitrary figures.

It’s similar to moneyball baseball, which sets measurable team goals and uses sophisticated player data analysis to build rosters designed to meet those goals for optimum monetary value. Used in government budgeting, this smarter, more conservative approach can improve government services and, ultimately, the lives of Oklahomans.

Let’s get one thing straight: No one will ever mistake this Tulsa city councilor or Oklahoma state finance secretary for Brad Pitt. That said, we’ve each felt somewhat like Billy Beane during our efforts to transform how our colleagues approach fiscal policy. Beane had to overcome early resistance from the status quo, but he emerged with a more effective model his colleagues have all since adopted.

The city of Tulsa and state of Oklahoma have a similar opportunity to lead the way toward greater efficiency and effectiveness. Citizens should encourage both governments to do so.

G.T. Bynum represents District 9 on the Tulsa City Council. Preston Doerflinger serves as Gov. Mary Fallin’s secretary of finance and was previously the elected Tulsa city auditor.


Aragaon Returns To Light Duty

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Rita Aragon said today she is returning to light duty after suffering what was described as a mini-stroke recently.

On Facebook, the retired Air Force general wrote, “I returned to some light duties this week. I can’t drive long distances, so won’t be in Ardmore today, but plan to be at the ground breaking for Veterans Corner on Hiway 9 tomorrow morning!”


Legislators Warn Of Tax Consequences

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A group of 35 state legislators released an open letter Thursday voicing concerns about the possibility that many tax relief measures passed in Oklahoma over the past decade could be overturned, should the state Supreme Court rule that tax reductions must meet the guidelines of State Question 640.

Passed on a statewide ballot by voters in 1992 as an amendment to the Oklahoma Constitution, SQ 640 was intended to make it more difficult for the state Legislature to increase taxes. According to the provision, all proposals increasing state taxes must either be sent to a vote of the people or receive three-fourths approval in both houses of the Legislature. Such measures also cannot be approved in the final five days of the legislative session.

At question is the fate of Senate Bill 1246, an income tax reduction measure passed by the Legislature during the 2014 session. The new statute’s constitutionality has been challenged in a lawsuit, filed with the state Supreme Court, on the grounds that it did not meet the standards of SQ 640. The Court heard arguments on the suit last month.

The 35 lawmakers who endorsed the letter hail from all four quadrants of the state. The two legislators who carried SB 1246 in the Senate and House of Representatives, respectively – state Sen. Kyle Loveless, R-Oklahoma City, and state Rep. Leslie Osborn, R-Mustang – endorsed the letter.

In the letter, the lawmakers make the case that it was not the aim of Oklahoma voters in 1992 to make it more difficult for the Legislature to reduce taxes. Rather, the intent was to make it harder to increase taxes.

If the Court were to rule against SB 1246 on the grounds that tax relief measures must meet the standards of SQ 640, numerous previous tax reductions could be overturned, including: income tax reductions, estate tax repeal, increases in the standard deduction, gross production tax rate reductions, manufacturing exemptions, and tax relief for retirees, military veterans and disabled veterans.

 


Anderson Suggests Funds Diversion To Finish Indian Center

Senator Patrick Anderson of Enid suggests a way to fund the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum: http://newsok.com/oklahoma-lawmaker-offers-options-to-complete-american-indian-cultural-center/article/5365523


Murphey: Lifting The Veil Of Secrecy

murphey1

Rep. Jason Murphey

Most people have probably heard of those secretive government money accounts known as revolving accounts or carryover funds. These funds contain either excess money not initially needed by the government or funds from sources that do not originate from legislative appropriations. Since these funds are not subject to legislative appropriations, they aren’t readily available for legislative oversight.

Many state government entities have revolving funds, but attempting to quantify or understand them has historically been out of reach of most members of the public and even many policy makers such as legislators.

I became personally involved in this issue when I spoke about transparency at the annual Freedom of Information Oklahoma Sunshine Week Conference where a member of the press asked about these revolving accounts and making them transparent. I indicated a willingness to do what I could to provide the means for oversight and subsequently sponsored the proposal to place a detailed listing of all state revolving funds and the amount contained in each fund, to be updated on a monthly basis, through the data transparency portal, data.ok.gov.

Oklahoma’s Office of Management and Enterprise Services, the state agency in charge of carrying out this transparency mandate, has followed through with carrying out the intent of our proposal and the revolving fund data sets are now online.

As the Legislature prepares for the next session, our budget chairmen will have direct access to a complete listing of all 1,102 revolving funds, the amount of money in the fund and the statutory authorization for the fund. Because these listings are updated on a monthly basis, the legislators can watch as state agencies tap into or direct money into these funds.

Better yet, all of this information is also available to the public.To view the current status of state revolving funds, simply navigate to data.ok.gov and search for the term “revolving”. You can proceed to analyze the revolving fund data set of your choice.

Perhaps the viewer notices that a fund has been depleted and wants to know how the money has been spent. He can cross reference the specific expenditures by viewing the “vendor payments” data set which may also be found online at data.ok.gov.

The vendor payments data set lists outgoing payments made by the state and the fund from which the payments are made.

This new transparency reform represents just one more step towards making state government truly accountable to the public and is lifting the veil of secrecy which has for years hidden the presence of the hundreds of revolving funds.


Corporation Commission’s Michael Decker Honored

Corporation Commission

Praised as a “superb servant of our state and a judicial guardian of our precious natural resources,” attorney and Oklahoma Corporation Commission official Michael Decker has been named the recipient of this year’s Eugene Kuntz Award for his contributions to energy law.

The award was presented at the 19th Annual Kuntz Conference on Natural Resources Law & Policy at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City, attended by more than 500.

Decker has been with the Oklahoma Corporation Commission for 32 years, starting as an oil and gas attorney. He is now the Director of Administrative Proceedings,  which includes the Commission’s court system, which handles more than 40,000 cases a year in such areas as oil and gas, public utilities, consumer services, and transportation, as well as others. He also maintains a full case load as a Commission judge, and oversees the Division’s more than 30 employees, including 14 Administrative Law Judges.

Oklahoma Corporation Commission Chairman Bob Anthony praised Decker, calling him “a man of strong character who believes in high standards of judicial conduct and attorney ethics…I depend on his integrity and his extraordinary abilities every day.”

The Eugene Kuntz Award is presented by the University of Oklahoma College of Law to recognize and honor a lawyer “who has made significant contributions to energy law.” The Award is named in honor of the late Eugene Kuntz, a long-time OU law professor and noted authority on energy law.


Operation Secret Ballot: The 1966 GOP Election Reform Project

Paul R. Hollrah

Paul R. Hollrah

Paul R. Hollrah

On Tuesday evening, September 10, 1963, I attended my first meeting of the Tulsa County Young Republicans.   It was the first political meeting I’d ever attended, and as a result of attending that one meeting, and the things I learned there, my life was changed forever.

The guest speaker that evening was a man named Walter Hall, the Ballot Security Officer for the Oklahoma Republican State Committee.  In his speech Hall described in shocking detail the widespread election fraud practiced by Oklahoma Democrats in every election.  He began by saying that forty-four of Oklahoma’s seventy-seven counties had not provided a secret ballot for voters since statehood in 1907, and that local Democrats regularly used every conceivable illegal device to intimidate voters and to fraudulently control the outcome of elections.

Although state law required that one of the three election officials in every precinct must be a member of the minority party, Oklahoma Democrats systematically appointed bogus Republicans to the minority positions.  Consequently, in many precincts in those forty-four counties, all of the election officials were, in fact, Democrats.

When voters entered the polls on Election Day they found three Democrats seated behind a table.  After signing the entry log they were handed a paper ballot and a pencil, and since there were no facilities for marking ballots in secret, they were obliged to place their ballot on the table and to mark their ballot while the three election officials looked on.  If the election officials saw a voter mark his ballot for even a single Republican candidate, a number of things could happen.In many Oklahoma counties the welfare rolls were divided up by precincts and kept on the tables in the polling places on Election Day.  If a welfare recipient was so unwise as to vote for a Republican, his/her name was removed from the welfare rolls the instant the pencil marked the ballot.  If the errant voter was a state or county employee, he ran the risk of being unemployed the same day.  And if he was a property owner, he often found his property tax assessment doubled or tripled overnight.

Walter Hall

Walter Hall

In some counties the election officials were so brazen as to keep a trash can next to the ballot box, and any ballot with a Republican vote on it went directly into the trash can.  The only ballots in the ballot box were straight Democratic tickets.In some counties they were a bit more subtle and used a technique that Walter Hall referred to as the “lead-under-the-thumbnail” trick.  That technique involved breaking the lead from a pencil and tucking it lengthwise under a thumbnail.

When the election official took a completed ballot from a voter, and the ballot contained a vote for a Republican candidate, the official merely scraped the lead across the face of the ballot, folded the ballot in the normal fashion, and placed it in the ballot box.

When the ballot boxes were opened and the ballots were removed, state law required that all ballots with “extraneous” markings be classified as “mutilated” ballots and not counted in the final tally.In other counties, election officials would allow a thumbnail to grow very long over a period of months preceding an election.  On the day of the election they would file a sharp edge on the thumbnail so that, when they took a ballot containing a Republican vote from a voter and prepared to fold it, they merely flicked the sharp nail through the edge of the paper.  Ballots with small rips and tears were considered to be “mutilated” and were discarded along with those having extraneous markings.

I was absolutely appalled at the speaker’s endless recounting of official corruption in the state’s electoral process.  It was hard for me to believe that such corrupt practices could be standard practice in the greatest democracy on Earth, in the twentieth century, but there was no reason to doubt the truth of what he said.Having been an interested observer of the Democratic Party for many years, and having learned much more about it through many friendly debates with my in-laws, I was all but convinced that the party was just another large-scale criminal conspiracy, masquerading as a political party.  After hearing Walter Hall’s presentation that evening I was absolutely certain of it.

When the speaker had concluded his remarks and the meeting was adjourned, I didn’t hesitate for a moment but walked directly to the front of the room. As I approached Mr. Hall, several Young Republicans had already gathered around him and were vying for his attention.

I stood directly in front of him, and when our eyes met I held out my hand.  As we shook hands I said, “Mr. Hall, my name is Paul Hollrah.  I’ve just recently moved to Oklahoma, but I’d like to volunteer to form a committee to raise funds and to provide voting booths for all of those counties that don’t have them.”

He looked at me, chuckled, and said, “You don’t really think the Democrats would let you get away with that, do you?  They throw us a bone now and then,” he continued, “or we find them fighting amongst themselves and we manage to get somebody elected.  We’re a distinct minority in Oklahoma and I’m afraid we have to be satisfied with that.”

The people standing around the speaker nodded in agreement.  “Yeah, that’s right!” they chorused.

I was very disappointed.  I thought they’d be angry.  As the primary victims of the fraud, I thought they’d be mad enough to do something about it, but they weren’t.  They proceeded from the assumption that if they tried, they were bound to fail – and, chances are they would have.

However, on February 8, 1966, I was elected Chairman of the Tulsa County Young Republicans.  It didn’t take long for me to conclude that there was one major benefit to being Chairman of the Tulsa County YR’s.  As chairman of the YR’s, I had power – not a lot of power, but enough power – and I knew that if I played my cards right I’d have enough power to do something about election fraud in Oklahoma.

I had not forgotten the speech I heard at the first YR meeting I attended with Joe McGraw in September 1963.  After being thoroughly rebuffed in my first bold attempt at organizing a reform movement, and after witnessing widespread fraud in the 1964 general election, I made a second attempt in early 1965 – but again to no avail. 

Republicans simply didn’t believe that reform was possible in the face of Democratic opposition.  For Democrats, vote fraud was a way of life.  It was their bread and butter.  It was the means by which they had maintained one-party control in states from Texas to Virginia for the better part of a century.  And since Democrats controlled all county and state election boards, the legislatures, the major law enforcement offices, and the courts, few Republicans were willing to take them on.  They had asked God for the patience to endure the things they could not change, for the will to change the things they could change, and for the wisdom to know the difference.  Unfortunately, they’d put vote fraud in the category of “things they could not change.”

I was convinced that it not only could be done, it had to be done.

In mid-February, just days after my election, I created an organization called Operation: Secret Ballot.  I appointed five YRs, two of whom, Johnny Cherblanc and Dave Nalley, I appointed as project coordinators.  Both were active members of the Tulsa Jaycees..  I made no public announcements, there was no fanfare, I just did it.  More importantly, I had a plan.  I knew that very little reform could be accomplished if the effort was widely viewed as being a partisan operation.  What we needed was a non-partisan front with bipartisan support.

Through John  Cherblanc and  Dave Nalley we convinced the Tulsa Jaycees to invite Walter Hall to be guest speaker at a future meeting.  Hall spoke at the June meeting of the Tulsa Jaycees and the result was totally predictable. They were outraged at what he told them about vote fraud in Oklahoma.  We had our non-partisan front.

Gene Vinyard, of the Tulsa Jaycees, was selected as project coordinator for Operation: Secret Ballot.  And after a quiet conversation with one or two fair-minded, idealistic members of the Tulsa County Young Democrats…young Democrats who actually believed in honest elections and the Rule of Law…the project was launched.  Operation: Secret Ballot was an organization of mostly Young Republicans, with Jaycee leadership and publicity, and enough Young Democrats to validate our claim to bipartisanship.

Working with a cabinetmaker from the Jaycees, we designed a voting booth that could be made from simple one-by-two white pine frames, covered with unbleached muslin, and assembled with offset hinges to allow easy folding and stacking for storage.

The Operation: Secret Ballot coordinating team was doing an excellent job. Gene Vinyard, Johnny Cherblanc, and the others raised more than $5,000 for the project – enough to purchase all of the materials we needed – and the Tulsa Rig and Reel Company loaned us one of their abandoned steel fabricating shops in West Tulsa for our assembly operation.

In late July we sent letters to the county election boards in all of the forty-four counties where the secret ballot didn’t exist, informing them that we’d have voting booths available for them, free of charge, by election day, November 8.  All they had to do was tell us how many they needed and we’d deliver them to their county courthouse during the first week of November.

By mid-August our assembly line was operational and we started producing voting booths.  Every Saturday and every Sunday, from mid-August through late October, the cavernous interior of our voting booth “factory” echoed with the sound of saws, hammers, and staplers.  And as the voting booths came off the end of our assembly line they were folded, stacked, and stored along one side of the building.  As the weeks passed our inventory grew and grew.

When responses started coming in from county election boards, we found a mixed reaction.  Some counties didn’t respond at all, but among those who did there were both written and oral responses.  For the most part, the letters we received said, “Thank you! We’ve never been able to afford voting booths in our county.”  And they went on to say how many they needed and where to deliver them.

The oral responses were never direct, they were always sent to us through third parties. Basically, they were very simple messages.  They said, “If you come into our county with your damned voting booths we’ll be waiting for you with shotguns and rifles and you’ll all go back to Tulsa in pine boxes!”

We had many threats on our lives, and knowing of many cases of violence by Democrats, we took them all very seriously.

In mid-October Governor Henry Bellmon commented publicly on our election reform project, and within a day or two we were contacted by the Adjutant General of the Oklahoma National Guard. The General told us that he would make National Guard troops and trucks available to us whenever we needed them.  All we had to do was tell him which counties were to receive voting booths and the number of voting booths to be delivered to each location.

During the first week of November 1966, the National Guard loaded and delivered enough voting booths to supply somewhere between eight hundred and a thousand precincts across the state.  Under the glare of public scrutiny the Democrats were afraid not to use them, and on Tuesday, November 8, Oklahoma voters went to the polls and elected a new governor, Tulsa Senator Dewey Bartlett, the second Republican governor in Oklahoma history; they elected a Republican attorney general, Okllahoma City attorney G.T. Blankenship, the first Republican attorney general in state history; they elected Republican congressmen in two of the state’s six congressional districts; and they elected a Republican state labor commissioner.

We were all happy, of course, that our friend, Dewey Bartlett, would be occupying the governor’s chair for the next four years, but the most significant outcome of Operation: Secret Ballot was the election of G.T. Blankenship as attorney general.

Within months after taking office, Blankenship announced major criminal indictments against the most powerful and corrupt Democrat politician in the state.  The evidence of official corruption was overwhelming and when a guilty verdict was returned at trial he was sentenced to eight years in the state reformatory at McAlester.

The attorney general also stunned Oklahomans when he announced an official investigation of wrongdoing among the justices of the Oklahoma Supreme Court. The court was comprised of nine justices, all Democrats, and when the facts emerged Oklahomans learned that a majority of the justices had been taking bribes of from $15,000 to $25,000 to influence their decisions on cases before the court.  With $100,000 or $150,000 to spend, a litigant could buy any decision he wanted from the state’s highest court. Blankenship’s revelations first came on the floor of the House, where he served as a representative.

In the end, several justices were successfully impeached and removed from the bench, while others resigned rather than face the public humiliation of impeachment.

A small group of determined citizens from Tulsa County gave the State of Oklahoma the biggest dose of political reform it ever had.  The Tulsa Jaycees received the National Community Service Award from the U.S. Jaycees for their role in the project.

However, in Republican circles, Operation: Secret Ballot was never mentioned.  As I would learn in the months and years to follow, it was typical of the recognition that the Republican Party showered on its best and brightest.  In the Republican Party there was no such thing as recognition for achievement; the only message was “Get up the money, get out the vote, and get the hell out of my face.”  Nothing has ever changed in that regard.

Nevertheless, it is almost certain that Henry Bellmon’s first term as governor (1963-67) and the Operation: Secret Ballot project of 1966 were, together, the two political developments in Oklahoma history that are the basis of the political renaissance that has made Oklahoma the reddest of red states.

Paul R. Hollrah is a former Sunoco governmental affairs executive. He lives near Locust Grove.


Daughter Updates Aragon’s Health

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Rita Aragon’s daughter today updated Aragon’s condition after the retired general and Oklahoma Air National Guard commander suffered an apparent mini-stroke over the weekend.

Aragon has been hospitalized while undergoing treatment.

On Facebook, her daughter wrote, “She is SO much better that they’re finally sending her home today. She is touched and overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and love and thanks you ALL.”


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