A member of Republican leadership plans to push for a change in authority at the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department.
Senate Appropriations Chair Roger Thompson said in a news release Wednesday he wants to restore the power to hire and fire the OTRD director to the department’s commission, which has served only in an advisory since a law change in 2019 which gave that authority to the governor.
Governor Kevin Stitt was the first in the office to choose a director of the OTRD, which he did with his appointment of Jerry Winchester.
Thompson said the recent fallout of the OTRD’s contract with Swadley’s Foggy Bottom Kitchen, which a spending watchdog found led to more than $12 million in avoidable spending, led him to believe the commission should have more authority.
“Evidently the direct appointment of the governor is not working,” Thompson told News 9. “We need more oversight.”
Winchester resigned in April after the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation and State Auditor launched probes into the contract, which cost the state roughly $16.7 million, according to the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency.
Thompson said he will file a bill in the 2023 legislative session that proposes “restoring powers to the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Commission including the ability to hire and fire the agency’s executive director and restoring oversight of contract and financial expenditures.”
Members of the commission will be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate as normal, Thompson said, but his legislation will add a provision to make removing a member more difficult.
Thompson’s legislation will propose that a member “can only be removed for cause,” he said. “That way the governor's not going to be able to reach in and simply say, ‘I don't want you serving because you didn't choose my person.’”
The governor’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment after 5 p.m. Wednesday.
Speaker of the House Charles McCall did not immediately take a stance on Thompson’s proposal, pending the outcome of a special house investigative committee’s inquiry into the Swadley’s contract.
“If the House Special Investigative Committee finds such a change is needed, proposals to accomplish the change will get due consideration in the House. The troubling allegations of fraudulent and wasteful use of taxpayer funds in this matter have our full attention,” McCall said.