Editor’s Notebook: a friendly bet, new watchdogs, Costello contends

The University of Oklahoma Sooners football team, ranked first in the nation, contends on the Gridiron this Saturday with the Florida State University Seminoles. That is not something that usually a focus of CapitolBeatOK, but in this case it seems appropriate to report receipt of the following message from Alex Weintz, communications director for the Sooner State’s chief executive:

“I’m writing to let you know that Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin and Florida Governor Rick Scott have made a friendly wager over twitter and Facebook concerning this weekend’s OU/FSU game. If OU wins, Gov Scott will be sending a Florida Keylime pie to Gov Fallin here in our office. In the event that FSU wins (we know they won’t), Gov Fallin will be sending a Field’s Pecan Pie (made in Paul’s Valley, OK) to Gov Scott in Florida. Go Sooners.”

* * * 

Rob Bluey, director of the Center for Media and Public Policy at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., has crafted a fresh report on “The New Watchdogs” — the emergence of online news websites based in state Capitols and/or focused on government coverage, and think-tank-supported journalism.

Among other stories, Bluey sketches the impact of reporting by Bill Osmulski of Wisconsin’s MacIver Institute. Osmulski’s background is in traditional television news, but he now works for a state-based think tank. He gained national notice for stories and video reports on the use of fake doctors’ notes by teacher union members who stayed away from work in order to join protests at the state Capitol in Madison during the 2011 state legislative session. 

Bluey’s report touches on the work of journalists and news websites affiliated with the Frankllin Center for Government and Public Integrity in breaking a range of stories, including the 2009 wave of reports on “phantom” congressional districts driving federal stimulus spending, and other fiscal scandals.

Bluey observes that some work of Franklin-affiliated news groups are under scrutiny, but “through hard work, accurate reporting and devotion to journalistic principles, there’s growing respect for these nonprofit ventures.” 

CapitolBeatOK affiliated with the Franklin Center early this year.

Reporters whose work appears on this website regularly include Stacy Martin, a former business reporter for The Oklahoman who is now editor of a weekly newspaper (The City Sentinel in Oklahoma City), and Billie Rodely, a well-known radio journalist and member of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame. Rodely moderates the weekly “Capitol Watch” podcast posted here.

* * *

Oklahoma Commissioner of Labor Mark Costello has formed a 504 c 4 group focused on gaining “Parity for Oklahoma,” including removal of advantages afforded to government employees and to labor unions in the state. He is focused on a range of issues, including paycheck protection, pensions, perks and performance.

In the latter category, he observes that, “Many state government workers are employed in agencies governed by a rigorous set of rules, designed to protect the workers that detail and define the ability of management to take disciplinary action against poorly performing workers. Many of these rules are more restrictive than labor union workplace rules. These restrictions on management are called ‘Merit Rules.’ They do more than protect good employees from arbitrary action by supervisors; these rules can actually reward bad employee behavior.”

He expresses on his new personally-funded website frustration he felt after learning that “a newly-hired, merit-protected state government worker cannot be fired for showing up on the first day of employment inebriated. Why not? Because under the Merit Rules (see below), only a habitually drunk employee can be fired. This is a ridiculous state policy.” 

Costello is pushing for three-year probationary period for new state employees, putting them in the same category as “at will” employees in the private sector. OETA reported this week that Costello asserts, “We need to visit these issues in an honest and forthright candor. I believe in the referendum of the last elections. The taxpaying citizens of Oklahoma wanted another direction.”

In a speech to the Republican Women’s Club of Tulsa County, Costello expressed appreciation for “the competence and continuity” of employees at the Labor Department he now runs. However, he made clear his disdain for some of the “merit” rules in government. 

According to a Tulsa World story, Costello said, “”If we’re going to turn this ship around … we’re going to have to fight for it and realize the other side is going to be like feral hogs.”
State Democratic Party Chairman Wallace Collins assailed Costello this week for the “feral hogs” analogy. In a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK, Collins said the comparison of government employees to feral hogs “who breed three or four times a year” was “unacceptable and he should resign immediately.” 

Sate Sen. Judy Eason-McIntyre, a Tulsa Democrat, expressed disappointment that Costello’s word usage hadn’t provoked wider reaction from pubic employee groups. She too, called for his “immediate resignation.” She also said, in a statement provided to CapitolBeatOK,  “He was elected to run a state agency, not a nonprofit. I think he needs to focus on the job he was elected to do.”