In a statement Tuesday, the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust or TSET said it had created a new chief executive role and had found the right person to fill it. But controversy over the salary awarded to the position is mounting.
After a $35,000 nationwide search, the trust chose former Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner Patrice Douglas, who would earn $250,000 a year.
To put her pay in context, the head of the Department of Education makes $120,000. The Attorney General makes $130,000 dollars. The Governor $150,000. Douglas would out-earn all four of them by more than 100,000 dollars. TSET officials said they need to keep executive pay competitive and share the burden of running a large organization.
“We are the largest funder for prevention in our state. We behave like a foundation. We do not get an appropriation from the legislature. We do not get cigarette tax dollars. We do not get state tax dollars,” TSET spokesperson Julie Bisbee said Wednesday. Bisbee added the trust’s board of directors looked at “peer organizations” to stay competitive with pay.
Others, however, have questions about whether the money going to the new CEO salary is being misused. One former lawmaker called the salary “crazy.” Representative John Montgomery said the salary struck him as "substantial" and talks of re-purposing TSET funds during the shortfall had been a "conversation in the background" saying the state "may need to take a second look" at TSET's funds.
Bisbee said she was unaware of any similar conversations about repurposing. She added the trust’s current executive director is eligible for retirement and described Douglas’ position as “a transition” several times during an interview on Wednesday, although she was unable to explain exactly what that meant.