Several of the Oklahoma County officials campaigned on bringing a more professional manner, tone and demeanor to the circus that was Oklahoma County government.
Have things at the courthouse really changed, or have the elected officials learned the political lessons of the past?
Let’s look back a few years: Commissioner Stuart Earnest faced Stan Inman, who ran on the campaign promise to bring a sense of business and professionalism to the courthouse; the county jail had been in the headlines for months; and there were many excesses of bad judgment by many officials.
The challenger Inman became Commissioner Inman. In that same year, Jim Roth defeated the incumbent as well.
Two years later, Brent Rinehart beat Jack Cornett.
Once they got elected, that professionalism they all seemed to promise vanished. There were press releases challenging the integrity and capability of fellow officials, bickering between public officials, threatening to “take it outside” to deal with the problem man to man. It never seemed to end.
The old cast of characters still in office today includes County Assessor Leonard Sullivan, Treasurer Butch Freeman, Court Clerk Patricia Presley and County Clerk Carolynn Caudill (who survived a challenge from Inman last year).
But, the commissioners were slowly replaced. Brian Maughan replaced Brent Rinehart in 2008, and Ray Vaughn replaced Stan Inman in 2006.
Willa Johnson replaced Jim Roth after he was appointed to the Corporation Commission in 2007. David Prater replaced Wes Lane as district attorney in 2006.
Yet, the challenges the county government faces are real.
The county jail has yet to be seriously addressed. And, something that not many people know, every county employee automatically receives 12 percent of their salary put into a retirement account regardless if the employee contributes.
In addition to high salaries (relative to private industry), and benefits, I don’t know of any private company that pays that high percentage of retirement.
The federal government only will match up to 4 percent, so the county employees get three times the federal retirement.
In this time, when seniors on a fixed income are stretching prescriptions to pay their property taxes, isn’t it time, given the new tone of the elected officials, to enact reforms? Changing the county retirement system, for example, would ensure property owners in Oklahoma County don’t have another retirement balloon over the next generation’s head?
How about property taxes going down for a change?
Oklahoma County politics and bickering have, for the most part, been pushed to the wayside. It no longer gets front-page stories and exposure on the nightly news.
Have Brian Maughan, David Prater, Ray Vaughn and Willa Johnson changed the tone to get things done, or did they just learn to get along better?
I think the proof is in the pudding: The officials seem to get along better for now, but the main challenges are ahead, and we shall see if the new tone can actually accomplish something for the taxpayers of Oklahoma County.
Loveless, a former state Senate candidate, is the CEO of Phoenix Consulting and the business manager for Loveless Orthopedic and Custom Footwear.