OKLAHOMA CITY–State Representative James Lockhart , D-Heavener, expressed serious concerns over a recently filed Senate bill which he says will increase the problem of political favoritism in state employment.
Senate Bill 1046, filed by Sen. Dan Newberry, R-Tulsa, seeks to eliminate employment protections for nearly 25,000 state workers. The bill provides that “appointing authorities shall not convey any right or expectation of continued employment to all employees…the appointing authority may separate each employee at any time with or without cause.”
Rep. Lockhart noted how the issues of collusion and the removal of employee protections are closely related.
“This legislation, if enacted, would bolster the ‘good ‘ole boy’ system that has plagued Oklahoma for so long,” Lockhart said. “Senator Newberry’s bill would increase the influence an elected official could have on the hiring and firing of state employees.”
State employees are currently placed in one of two categories, classified or unclassified. The nearly 10,000 “non-classified workers” serve at the pleasure of the officeholder, but another 25,000 are in a probationary status for a year before they are deemed “classified.”
Classified employees may be terminated for reasons such as insubordination and inability to perform the duties of the position, but they are given merit protection, which means they are protected from being terminated for non-performance-related reasons.
If Newberry’s bill was enacted, state jobs could be subject to favoritism and political patronage which would create an employment environment in which they were expected to donate, campaign or support a particular officeholder, or risk losing their job.
Newberry noted in a previous release that the state Labor Commissioner, Mark Costello, a Republican from Edmond , requested he file the legislation. Costello has been criticized for his recent comments comparing state workers to “feral hogs”, and there has been a formal complaint filed with the IRS calling for an investigation into the legality of Parity in Oklahoma , a non-profit organization “approved” by the Commissioner that seeks to undermine state employee benefits and protections.
Lockhart also expressed concerns that Newberry’s bill could result in the favoring of less-qualified candidates for state positions, at the expense of Oklahomans who worked hard for their education.
Trish Frazier, the policy and communications director for the Oklahoma Public Employees Association, stated the following in a recent Tulsa World interview: “The classified service ensures the best people work for the state of Oklahoma . If you get rid of the classified service, you return to what is called the spoils system, which means state government is dominated by political appointees.”
In other words, it would mean a return to the cronyism that Lockhart is fighting to end.
Lockhart has filed a bill that will require all applicants for state employment to sign a statement of non-collusion.
“I was a state employee for six years,” Lockhart said. “During this time I witnessed the creation, out of thin air, of many jobs for political appointees, many of whom were given transfers and promotions over employees who had more experience and education.”
This favoritism, Lockhart argues, “is a slap in the face to all those students and parents working long hours for their college education. I worked many jobs in order to put myself through college and my mother and father both worked long hours as well.”
Lockhart wants to ensure that individuals are “judged by the quality of their resume and not the quality of their political contacts.”