Last week, Oklahoma Department of Human Services Director Ed Lake canceled 10 contracts that had been awarded to private agencies hired to help find and keep more foster families.
Expanding the pool of foster families is a priority for DHS and an important part of a reform plan borne out of the settlement of a federal class-action lawsuit against the agency. But there were problems with how the program got off the ground.
Among other things, the contracts proved to be confusing for some providers and would-be providers, and some of the financial penalty provisions were overly harsh. Lawmakers heard from other provider agencies that were displeased with the competitive selection process.
The bids for the contracts had been received before Lake took over Nov. 1. He could have simply left not-so-well-enough alone — indeed, Lake said his decision was no reflection on the work done by those that were awarded contracts. But instead he is starting over because “the downside of going forward under these conditions outweigh the benefits” for those agencies and DHS.
Four legislators closely involved in DHS issues supported the move. It will slow the process of finding groups to recruit, train and support foster families, they said, but standing pat would have yielded “significantly worse results over the long run.”
Six months into a very difficult job, Lake is displaying the kind of leadership taxpayers ought to applaud.
During debate on a bill this week, Oklahoma state Rep. Dennis Johnson, R-Duncan, said customer service gives small businesses like his an edge over big stores and chains, even though customers might try to “Jew me down on a price.”
Johnson, 59, later said he grew up hearing that scurrilous phrase but didn’t know why he used it. It “just came out of one of the wrinkles of my brain and was not something that was intentional.”
That excuse might hold more water except that Johnson was speaking on the floor of the Oklahoma House, where one expects a modicum of thought to accompany the proceedings. And it might fly better if Johnson had immediately corrected himself.
Instead he continued his debate until a nearby colleague pointed out what he had said. “Did I?” Johnson responded. Then, smiling — almost laughing — he added, “I apologize to the Jews. They’re good small businessmen as well.”
No doubt the Jews will be glad to hear that.
The state of Oklahoma received a $64.8 million payment this week from U.S. tobacco companies, which have been writing similar checks to Oklahoma since 1999.
In fact the latest payment put Oklahoma over the $1 billion mark in money received as part of an agreement settling a lawsuit filed by 46 states over costs tied to tobacco-related illnesses. The payments will continue as long as tobacco products are sold.
In 2000, Oklahoma voters wisely approved the creation of a trust fund to hold onto the bulk of the settlement money and use the fund’s earnings for health-related purposes. The fund’s balance stands at $797 million, and since 2001, more than $151 million in earnings have been realized.
No other state protected its money; as a result, their tobacco payments go out as quickly as they come in, used for any number of nonhealth-related reasons.
A report by the National Conference of State Legislatures shows that only three states have a lower percentage of females in their legislatures than Oklahoma. Which means what, exactly?
To some, it means Oklahoma voters aren’t as progressive as states that have a higher percentage of women in the legislature, such as Colorado and Vermont.
To others, it means Oklahoma is missing out on qualities women bring to the table that lead to things getting accomplished. “Things work better and more smoothly when there are more women involved,” state Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman, told Oklahoma Watch. “Compromise is more encouraged if more women are involved.” Those comments appear to be based on stereotypes contradicted by the records of many successful female politicians (see Hillary Clinton, Margaret Thatcher, Nancy Pelosi, etc.).
We see the report as evidence only that comparatively speaking, not as many women in this state choose to run for the legislative offices. Oklahomans will vote for the candidate they believe is best suited for the job, regardless of gender. Heck, we had two women seeking the governor’s seat in 2010.
Virgin was more on point when she said it’s difficult to find women who are willing to run. When that begins to change, then the makeup of our Legislature will change, too.
Nancy Zorn, 79, of Warr Acres used a bicycle lock to attach herself this week to a piece of equipment being used to build the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline in Hughes County. Zorn was jailed when she refused to leave.
A group that opposes the pipeline quoted the woman as saying she couldn’t sit still while “toxic tar sands are pumped down from Canada into our communities.” Zorn’s hope was that she might inspire others to join the fight.
She shouldn’t hold her breath.
Oklahomans strongly favor construction of the Keystone pipeline. They understand that building the pipeline means jobs, and that worries about pipeline safety are red herrings offered by anti-fossil fuel zealots.
Zorn is left with a story to tell her grandchildren, but not much else. The pipeline is coming, and it should.
Every year the U.S. government makes a certain number of visas available for highly skilled immigrants, and every year the demand far exceeds the supply. It’s long past time Congress expand the cap.
Presently 65,000 visas are given to high-tech companies that want to hire skilled workers from other parts of the world. Another 20,000 are available for foreign workers who earned an advanced degree from a U.S. university.
The Homeland Security Department began taking applications Monday for this year’s visas, and expected to outstrip supply in just a matter of days. The Associated Press noted that political support has grown in recent years to proposals that would increase the number of available visas, and they’re now a big part of immigration reform talks.
Here’s hoping the politicians get this one right — the more bright people we have working in America, the better.
Voters in northwest Oklahoma City’s Ward 1 have the chance to send an excellent public servant back to the city council by re-electing Gary Marrs on Tuesday. Marrs, 66, is in a runoff with James Greiner, 31. Those two emerged from a three-person race in the March 5 primary.
Marrs has given a lot to the community during his nine years on the council, and before that during his 30-year career with the Oklahoma City Fire Department, which included a stint as chief. Greiner is a fine, energetic young man whose willingness to serve in a time-consuming, low-paying job speaks well of his character.
Like the best members of the council, Marrs works not only for his ward but for the whole city. He’s mindful of infrastructure challenges in his sprawling ward but is eager to help MAPS 3 blossom and for the city to continue economic development efforts that help it grow. He’s earned another term.
Ward 7 incumbent Skip Kelly, 63, also faces a runoff. His opponent is John A. Pettis Jr., 30, in the northeast-side ward.
Turnout for the primary was extremely light. Council members are critical in deciding the city’s course. These seats are important. Voters in Ward 1 and Ward 7 should treat them as such on Tuesday by going to the polls.
Relief is on the way for those frustrated (or worse) by their experience trying to get a driver’s license.
This week the Department of Public Safety debuted its Inline Online system, which lets users go online to make appointments for the driving skills tests, learner’s permit test and ID cards. Appointments can be made from one to 14 days in advance.
This week it was available for three locations in the Oklahoma City area. It’ll expand to Tulsa next week and eventually to DPS’s other field offices.
The service is free for now. When it’s fully in place, there will be a fee that DPS says will be “nominal.” Our guess is parents and teens will gladly pay a few bucks to avoid the current nightmare that involves arriving at driving stations in the middle of the night in hopes of being able to take the test.