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Ethics Commission reopens executive director search after Oklahoma AG’s criticism

The Oklahoma Ethics Commission meets last week to discuss hiring a new executive director.
Janelle Stecklein
Oklahoma Voice
The Oklahoma Ethics Commission meets last week to discuss hiring a new executive director.

The Oklahoma Ethics Commission voted Friday to extend the search for its next executive director through the end of the month just weeks after the state’s attorney general claimed the search “process has been irreparably flawed and must be started anew.”

When the board voted to extend the application period through Oct. 31, commissioners did not directly reference Attorney General Gentner Drummond’s letter accusing members of violating the Open Meeting Act in a previous meeting.

Commissioners also reversed course on an earlier plan to put together a search committee that included Executive Director Ashley Kemp to help vet applicants. Commission members said they now wanted to be involved in the entire selection process.

After the meeting, Kemp referred to commissioners questions about whether Drummond’s Sept. 21 letter factored into their decision to extend the application window.

Drummond wrote the five-member board violated the law during a July meeting by discussing general candidate qualifications and the search process behind closed doors. Drummond said based on conversations with Commissioner Eddie Fields and a review of meeting minutes, a “robust discussion on topics not appropriate for executive session took place.”

Drummond said that the commission did not publicly take any action on the job posting or qualifications, including a requirement that its next director have a law degree. He said either the commission approved the posting during executive session or else did not approve it.

The commission voted Friday to require that its next director have a law degree.

He also alleged that the commission did not vote to establish a search committee nor publicly set its search operating parameters.

“These apparent actions represent serious violations of both the letter and spirit of Oklahoma’s Open Meeting Act, the purpose of which is to ‘encourage and facilitate an informed citizenry’s understanding of governmental processes and governmental problems,’” Drummond wrote in a letter first reported by the legislative tracking service Quorum Call. “While I currently make no determination of whether any of the described violations were willful, my office reserves the right to make such a determination after a thorough investigation, if necessary.”

Drummond wrote that Kemp owed it to commissioners to “navigate them throughout the process legally, and you owe it to the state of Oklahoma to get this process right and completed transparently.”

Commissioners have been searching for Kemp’s replacement since she announced plans to resign by the end of the year. In her July 14, resignation letter, Kemp wrote the Legislature has hamstrung the agency’s enforcement abilities by not adequately funding it.

Commissioner Eddie Fields said the agency already has “a decent (candidate) pool that meets the requirements.”

In all, 17 people have applied, though commissioners only voted to accept 10 applications on Friday. The other seven applicants, who did not follow application requirements, will now have the chance to reapply.

The last time commissioners searched for a replacement, Kemp said there were “dozens and dozens and dozens of applicants.”

“We want as many qualified applicants as we can possibly get so they can make a really good hiring decision,” Kemp said after the votes.

Oklahoma Voice is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oklahoma Voice maintains editorial independence.

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