Jim Roth reflects on public service, future in Oklahoma

By Patrick B. McGuigan

Jim Roth said public service “feeds my soul.” In an interview with The City Sentinel, Roth said he was grateful to the citizens of Oklahoma County for twice electing him a county commissioner, and to Gov. Brad Henry for the opportunity to serve in a statewide post over the last two years.

The departing Corporation Commissioner, who left office this week, described lessons learned during six years in prominent public office, and said his preference is to remain in Oklahoma.

“I believe trust is the most important job performance attribute required of a public official,” he said. Asked about the differences between his six years running one of the county commission districts and his two years with the state, Roth noted several distinctions.
The Corporation Commission was actually a smaller agency, with a higher degree of tenure for the staff, and a lot of professional expertise among the employees. I was highly impressed with the people I worked with there. They are well-intended and highly qualified; it is a struggle to pay them adequately and industry often hires them away,” he said.

“At the county, I felt more individually responsible to hire and fire the talent, the employees. I was able to have a good impact there, too,” Roth said. “In both jobs, I’m most proud that the public came to trust me and my good intentions, my desire to serve all the people.”
Roth expressed pride in his work to assist senior citizens in both posts. “The property tax relief we assisted with saved tens of thousands of dollars for seniors.” As other examples of ways his time in office benefited the elderly, Roth pointed to work on provision of food and other care for shut-ins in the county, and his later work on winterization initiatives at the Corporation Commission.

The state job, he said, helped him understand ways the interests and needs of the state, the agency and consumers can blend or potentially conflict. Roth was known as a strong advocate of conservation, noting, “A kilowatt saved is a citizen-owned form of energy.” He added conservation is increasingly identified among analysts as “the fifth fuel” for driving the nation’s energy future. Roth believes he contributed to “a mindshift” toward the view that “the future requires saved energy” for the sake of Oklahoma and America.

Roth described his relationship with now-former colleagues Jeff Cloud and Bob Anthony as “mutually respectful. By and large our work was based on deliberative analysis of the law.”

Remembering often-tumultuous clashes with departed County Commissioner Brent Rinehart earlier in this decade, Roth complimented the incoming Brian Maughan, who defeated Rinehart in last year’s Republican primary, for making a point of inviting all living present and former county officials to attend his swearing-in. Roth said it reminded him of his own visits and/or conversations with past Corporation Commissioners Cody Graves, J.C. Watts, Ed Apple, Denise Bode and Norman Eagleton.

Roth said his job future has not yet been determined. “I concentrated on finding jobs for my two state employees, and I’ve done that. So, I’ve been focused on my own job hunt for just a few weeks. I have had good interviews. My preference is to stay in Oklahoma and I have turned down some out-of-state opportunities in hopes of remaining here,”he disclosed.

Roth revealed he is building a “green home” in the city area, utilizing state-of-the-art environmentally friendly construction plans, including passive solar collection.

Concerning his time in office and his defeat in last November’s general election, he said, “I am completely at peace with the outcome. I promised the governor I would work hard when he appointed me, and I did. I was thrilled to have the opportunity and at the level of support I received in the election. It was interesting that our race was the second highest vote-getting line in the state, second only to the presidential race and even higher than the U.S. Senate contest.” In his home neighborhood, Crown Heights, Roth received 68% support in the November election.

Asked if he had any advice for his successor, Dana Murphy, he commented, “Dana has been here before and knows the score. I just encourage commissioners to make decisions based on the record, to be consistent and keep the public trust. Consistency at the Corporation Commission will be important to businesses and to consumers, and will effect balance sheets.” Roth’s term ended at noon Monday.