COMMENTARY: Corporation Commissioner Douglas running on our time less work
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Published: 31-Jul-2014

TULSA -- Why would the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC) with limited notice and no definitive study reduce their meeting schedule from five days a week to two?

A recording of the OCC’s February 18, 2014 meeting suggests the change directly linked to Commissioner Patrice Douglas’ effort to win a seat in Congress from the Fifth District of Oklahoma. Thus the question for all Oklahomans: Are we paying this corporation commissioner to run for Congress?

The OCC faces one of the most intense workloads of any group of elected public officials in the state. The three commissioners address regulatory and judicial matters including permitting critical to the economic health of the state and fundamental to individual businesses engaged in oil and gas production, transportation and others.

Commissioners Patrice Douglas, Bob Anthony and Dana Murphy all spoke to Tulsa Today for this story, but they are as far from agreement today as when the change was made.

At their February 18 regular public meeting, Douglas, as chairman, proposed Anthony for chairman. In explanation of the change Douglas said, “I have made a little announcement and I am not going to be spending all of my additional time at the Commission. I am going to be doing all the work that is assigned to me, but also conducting a campaign for Congress. So I want the folks here to have the full benefit of what is needed. So I think at this time Commissioner Anthony would be a great replacement for me.”

Anthony then proposed a modification for Douglas to become vice chairman. She accepted that modification.

In discussion, Commissioner Dana Murphy spoke for a regular rotation of the chairmanship and a more orderly process of change in leadership. She further questioned why Douglas would accept the position of vice chairman “when you are not going to be here,” but said she was not opposed and the motion passed unanimously to take effect March 1.

The next item on the agenda proposed by Chairman Douglas was introduced “to better streamline the processes at the Commission” by eliminating signing agendas on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. She said that she had “talked with staff, attorneys and the largest companies and some of the smallest companies that appear before the Commission and they didn’t have any problem with us updating our processes as long as their orders continue to move.”

With no signing agendas; no public meetings are required.

“I would make note that while commissioners are at conferences or all three out-of-town for a particular reason, we are able to move orders through – we are able to continue the business of the Commission,” Douglas added.

The alternative process Douglas references allows individual commissioners to individually sign without requiring a public meeting of all three.
 
Commissioner Murphy said, “I think if we are going to do this appropriately…it needs to take into account input from all people…I think it needs to be considered in its entirety, but not for some March 1st time frame [then less than two weeks away].”

“I don’t feel it is appropriate for us to do some things without having the input from those downstairs [staff] that do this every day. If there are companies that want to talk to one commissioner, then they ought to talk to all the commissioners. That is really how I see it,” Murphy said.

“This was talked about in 2012 that we would have some kind of a forum or process [to change our procedures] and that never did happen. I have heard of working groups to look at this and working groups to look at that, but it is one thing to say it and another to get involved and work on that,” Murphy added.

“I am not resistive to increasing efficiencies, but I think a wider range of people should be heard instead of just three commissioners thinking they know best. I don’t think that is a good process. I don’t think that is open and transparent,” Murphy said during the February meeting. She noted the daily schedule had been ongoing for 35 years.

Murphy told Tulsa Today for this story, “I had reservations about this change then and I have reservations about this change today.”

Douglas asserts, “My goal was to make us more lean and efficient. We have made a number of changes.”

Asked, now five months later, if any study or survey of stakeholders or staff had been done to report on how the reduced meeting schedule was working Douglas answered plainly, 

“No.”

Commissioner Anthony said, “We are still able to sign orders individually one at a time to keep business in the state going. We still do that. I am a whole hearted supporter of not wasting people’s time on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

“If it was not an improvement someone would have brought it to our attention,” Anthony declared adding with emphasis, “I, Bob Anthony, elected five times statewide, think government needs fewer meetings not more meetings.”

Election to office may be an indication of public support, inertia or overwhelming advertising, but specific changes in state processes and policy don’t always make newspapers statewide.

In this case, Tulsa Today has not found coverage of the OCC change. Typically several print media cover the meetings, but apparently none attended February 18, 2014.

If the Commission cuts working hours by more than half then can taxpayers cut their paychecks by that same percent? Is it good government to set aside critical daily business for political aspirations at Oklahoma’s expense – in order to win national office to represent Oklahoma? If staff can handle all the critical issues in other ways, why do we need Commissioners in the first place?

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission is an important body – critical business done daily; unless, apparently, when running for office.

NOTE: Arnett is editor and publisher of Tulsa Today, one of the oldest news websites in the world.To hear the significant segment of the Feb.18 meeting referenced above, visit the site here

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