STATE AGENCY BILL SIGNING

Gov. Kevin Stitt (middle) shakes hands with Speaker of the House Charles McCall after signing five bills that would give the governor the authority to hire and fire the heads of five state agencies, in the Blue Room at the state Capitol in Oklahoma City, Wednesday, March 13, 2019. Nate Billings/The Oklahoman

Speaker of the House Charles McCall has rolled out a plan to dispatch members of responsible committees to keep an eye on key governing boards that set policy for the state’s bureaucracy.

Republican and Democratic members will be attending public and closed-door meetings of the State Transportation Commission, the State Regents for Higher Education, the State Board of Education and dozens of other governing boards.

The legislators aren’t there to tell the agencies what to do but to exercise their oversight responsibilities. McCall said his goals are to educate his members better on what happens in state government, do a better job of gauging agency effectiveness, monitor appropriations, assure that new statutes are put in action properly and keep an eye on the use of executive sessions.

That last element is especially important, as far as we’re concerned. State law is strict about why policy-setting boards can kick out the public from its deliberations, but there’s very little check on whether those rules are actually being obeyed once the doors close. State law allows legislators who serve on relevant oversight committees to attend those executive sessions. It’s healthy to have an independent observer in the room to make sure the people’s business is done as publicly as possible.

Legislators must remember that they aren’t members or bosses of governing boards. There’s a danger that lawmakers will overstep their role in how the state is governed. Legislators write law; the executive branch implements it. Legislators have oversight responsibilities, but they are still only interested outsiders in the process, and they need to behave that way.

If the result is a better-informed Legislature and greater adherence to the letter of the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act, McCall’s initiative is a step forward.

Earlier this month, an independent board gave legislators a 35% raise after the next election cycle. If McCall’s work to send legislators into the governing board meetings is part of what we get for the money, it may have a decent effect after all.


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