Gov. Mary Fallin is speaking out against the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust’s (TSET) creation of a highly-paid new chief executive role.
The governor’s office issued a press release saying, in part, that TSET’s failure to file necessary paperwork for the position “violates the spirit of an executive order” she issued in Feb. 2015. As News 9 reported in February this year, state agencies have been able to routinely get exemptions to that executive order, freeze new hires, transfers and promotions, by filling a request with the appropriate cabinet secretary.
TSET already employs an executive director, Tracey Strader, whose salary is $120,000.
In addition to the governor's concern over TSET's failure to "play by the same rules it has been playing under until it decided to create a new top-level position with such a high salary,” Fallin says the $250,000 salary sends the wrong message at a time when the state is facing such a tough economic climate.
In her statement, Fallin said, "These are public trust funds, and the public will lose trust in this important agency if this salary takes effect.”
TSET is overseen by two boards that manage programs and its $1 billion in tobacco settlement money. Only the interest is spent on smoking cessation and other health-related issues.
After a $35,000 nationwide search, the board that oversees the agency’s programs and employees voted last week to hire former Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner Patrice Douglas to take the agency's new CEO position.
“Patrice Douglas was a fine public servant who I expect would be a wonderful asset to TSET," Fallin said in the release, "but the board has to understand the concern about this salary, The board never consulted me about this decision. If I had been, I would have strongly advised each of them to set a more appropriate salary.”
TSET provided this statement to News 9:
“TSET is a non-appropriated state endowment trust. TSET does not receive state tax dollars or cigarette tax dollars to fund grants and programs to improve health. The TSET Board of Directors moved forward with an offer of employment for a chief executive officer at a competitive salary after seeking legal counsel on the board’s constitutional authority to do so.
Discussion about this position has been on multiple board meeting agendas beginning in November 2014 as part of normal succession planning for TSET. All TSET board meetings comply with the Open Meetings Act.
An executive search firm was hired in December 2015, through a solicitation process issued by the Office of Management and Enterprise Services. Throughout this process the board has maintained contact with legal counsel assigned to TSET through the Attorney General’s office.
The TSET Board of Directors takes very seriously its fiduciary responsibility to the public, who are living in a state which still lags behind national standards for health and wellbeing.”