Rep. Mike Brown says focus should be on “Unlawful Actions,” State Chamber challenges critique of private funding

By Patrick B. McGuigan

Published 29-Jan-2011

Friday afternoon (January 29), a second Democrat in the Legislature responded to the wave of Republican comments assailing words used by members of the state Board of Education during Thursday’s controversial meeting with Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi.

State Rep. Mike Brown, a Tahlequah Democrat, issued his own statement.

Also late on Friday, the State Chamber of Oklahoma released a defense of the private funding Barresi has secured to assure her staff can begin work on public policy reforms she promised to seek as superintendent.

In a press release sent to CapitolBeatOK, Rep. Brown focused on what he called “unlawful actions of the newly elected Superintendent of Public Instruction.” Brown said:

“Board members Herb Rozell and Tim Gilpin were trying to fulfill their duties and responsibilities according to state law. It seems that some of the newly selected hires of Superintendent Barresi, DDS, do not hold proper credentials and are not qualified for the positions, regardless of what promises were made after the election.

“The board members were informing the Superintendent of the Board’s responsibility to adhere to board rules in place and Oklahoma law.

“In the process of pointing out these regulations a comment was taken out of context and has deflected attention from the crux of the issues, which are that the Board was acting in the best interests of the Department of Education in requiring minimum qualifications of the Chief of Staff and other open positions.

“Another area of concern is the private entity that has been paying the salaries of these persons who were not approved for hire by the Board but nonetheless have acted as such. I would also question the intentions of this private entity in covering these salaries, and if down the road they will have any undue influence and control over our taxpayer-financed Department of Education.

“As far as Mr. Damon Gardenhire is concerned, his credentials are in communications and politics. He previously worked for former Speaker Lance Cargill, who resigned due to failure to pay taxes and receiving a reprimand from the Ethics Commission regarding campaign finances.

“I have no doubt that Herb Rozell and Tim Gilpin’s intentions were with protecting Oklahoma’s current form of education system as set forth by statute. I sincerely believe that both care deeply about common education, our teachers and our children. The last thing we need overseeing such a vital institution as the Department of Education are paid political hacks.”

House Democratic Leader Scott Inman of Del City made some of the same points in a statement he issued on Thursday, as previously reported by CapitolBeatOK.

Fred Morgan of the State Chamber also weighed into the controversy late on Friday. In a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK, he said:

“In these tough economic times, we must think creatively about how to couple public and private money together to move Oklahoma forward. It is unfortunate that the members of the State Board of Education are pretending that public-private partnerships are a new concept. I applaud Superintendent Barresi for seeking both public and private support for her reform initiatives.

“The business community has a huge stake in improving our state’s education system, which impacts economic development, business recruitment, job creation and the long-term establishment of an educated workforce in Oklahoma. The days of incrementalism are over, and anyone who wants to cling to the status quo to the detriment of our children’s future will be left behind.”

Morgan, president and CEO of the State Chamber, formerly served as Republican minority leader in the state House, then as an advisor to top GOP leaders at the Legislature.