In an afternoon meeting on Thursday, the embattled Oklahoma Board of Corrections announced Blackwell native Joe Allbaugh as the Department of Corrections new interim director. Allbaugh has a long history on the political scene but until he takes his post next week, the board is relying on his past management experience to make up for his lack of experience with prisons.
Allbaugh served as campaign manager and chief of staff for the then Texas Governor George W. Bush in 1990s. After Bush took office in the White House, Allbaugh was appointed to head the Federal Emergency Management Agency and guided thousands of employees through the tragedy of 9/11, according to a release from the DOC. Then ten years later he helped run Rick Perry's failed run for the white house in 2012.
“The board felt that his experience and his managerial style was something that the doc needed at this time,” DOC spokesperson Alex Gerszewski said on Friday.
After leaving politics, Allbaugh started his own consulting firm and was one of two directors for the Colorado based company Cannlabs which tests marijuana for potency and quality before being sold legally.
The Washington D.C. office of his consulting firm, Allbaugh International Group LLC, did not return a request for comment Friday. According to the firm, it provides state-of-the-art testin for licensed producers and distributors.
Gerszewski said Allbaigh has since left both firms although he's still listed with them online. But he is still on the board of directors at the National Rifle Association. He said none of the current or former positions were conflicts of interest.
His position there could be at odds however with Attorney General Scott Pruitt, whom has an ongoing fight with Colorado in which he alleges the state’s legalization of marijuana is driving up crime in Oklahoma.
“He brings a strong leadership experience from his work at FEMA as well as his private business that he's been successful in,” Gerszewski said.
But not everyone is so convinced. Top Democrats think Allbaugh's hiring is the Governor trying to save face after recent troubles with mishandled executions that eventually led to the indefinite halting of all Oklahoma executions and an investigation into the state’s execution protocol by the Office of the Attorney General.
Former director Robert Patton later stepped down amid the investigation to work for a private prison in Arizona to be closer to family, according to a release.
“The bottom line here is the Governor was desperate ok? They got rid of Patton. That was her first selection, That was an utter disaster as everybody knows.” Oklahoma City Representative Richard Morrissette said Friday. “[N]ow they're running around asking how can we fix the leak in the dam.”
The board voted to set Allbaugh’s salary at $165,000 per year. Gerszewski said Allbaugh is on his way to Oklahoma from Austin, TX where his consulting firm has an office. He said he has spoken with Allbaugh but does not know what steps the new prison chief has planned for his first days as director.