Editorial: Two good public servants step down amid ethics questions
BY World's Editorials Writers
Friday, June 01, 2012
6/01/12 at 2:51 AM
Two well-respected members of the Oklahoma Commission for Human Services have resigned in the wake of a recent interpretation of state ethics rules.
That's a darn shame. Steven Dow and Anne Roberts are two highly qualified, intensely committed public servants who have devoted their professional lives to helping Oklahomans in need. They are exactly the kind of people Oklahomans should want serving on a board as demanding and challenging as this one.
Oklahomans also want their boards to be free of any real conflicts of interest. But this latest development has many of us wondering: Can we go too far on this conflict-of-interest thing?
Dow, the unpaid executive director of the Community Action Project of Tulsa County, and Roberts, legislative affairs director for Integris Health, resigned by letter on Wednesday. Their resignations are effective immediately.
Gov. Mary Fallin praised their dedication and thanked them for their years of service, "as well as the selflessness they continue to exhibit by their actions today."
Dow was reprimanded by the state's Ethics Commission on Tuesday for serving on the board while heading up an organization that has a contract with the Department of Human Services. But Dow pointed out that he was cleared of any conflict before Gov. Brad Henry appointed him to the commission in 2010, and again in a recent memo from the state Attorney General's Office. The attorney general's April 5 memo seemed abundantly clear, stating that Dow is not in violation of ethics rules because he "does not own or control, in the aggregate, at least 2 percent or a value of $5,000 of the outstanding equity of" the Community Action Project.
Dow nevertheless decided to resign rather than allow his position as a board member to become a distraction from accomplishing board objectives.
Roberts resigned for a similar reason, noting Integris offers child-care benefits to employees and may have a contract with DHS.
"If there is the slightest perception in any way that my public service is to benefit someone, then I need to step away," she said. "My life's work is dedicated to protecting Oklahoma's children. This is sad for me."
It's a sad day for Oklahoma. As Dow pointed out, this development could have a chilling effect on the willingness of qualified Oklahomans to serve in such roles.
"How are we going to do citizen oversight of important government functions if we categorically disqualify people most qualified?" he asked.
Original Print Headline: Sad day