by Mark Showell, Tri-County Publications
Southeast Oklahoma will not have a representative on the Oklahoma Water Resources Board (OWRB) for at least another year, despite state law requiring a board member from the area be appointed in May of 2016.
The nine members of the OWRB must be appointed by the governor with the consent of the state senate so with the legislative session over for this year, it will be 2017 before the senate could approve any appointee.
In 2013, the Oklahoma Legislature passed and Governor Mary Fallin signed SB 965, which changed the make up of the OWRB. SB 965 changed the selection of the board members to more closely represent regional water interests. The law staggered changing the members to representatives from the various regions.
For many years no one who lives in Southeast Oklahoma has served on the OWRB. In May of 2016, the at-large position of the OWRB currently held by Richard Sevenoaks (Tulsa) was to change to someone residing in Region 9, which consists of Atoka, Bryan, Coal, Choctaw, Haskell, Hughes, Latimer, LeFlore, McCurtain, Pittsburg and Pushmataha Counties. The Governor failed to appoint any new member for Senate approval during the 2016 Legislative Session which ended on May 27, even though the law required the new appointment.
This is not the only member who’s term has expired that has not been replaced. Ed Fite’s (who represented the 2nd Congressional District) term expired in 2015 and he has not been replaced or reappointed. This is not unprecedented or unusual according to OWRB Director J.D. Strong. In his time at the OWRB, members have served several years after their term expired before being replaced or reappointed.
When asked if it is legal for an appointed board member to still serve after their term expired, Strong said that it is according to an attorney general’s opinion issued in 1998 by then AG Drew Edmondson. The opinion states, “Under the specific provisions of Article XXIII, § 10 of the Oklahoma Constitution, incumbent office holders are authorized to hold over and continue to serve until their successors are duly qualified.”
Some people in Southeast Oklahoma feel that the AG opinion cited above does not apply in this situation. The at-large position no longer exists due to the changes in law made by SB 965. The requirements for the at-large board member changed to someone who lives in Region 9 and Sevenoaks lives in Tulsa and does not qualify. He does not fulfill the intent of the law for this new member.
Former State Senator Jerry Ellis, who co-authored SB 965, said that the intent of the law was for a more fair representation of all areas of the state on the OWRB. He pointed out that Governor Fallin signed the bill into law and he does not understand why she is not making the appointment. “The Governor is refusing to obey the law. She is not supporting what she signed,” he said.
Senator Larry Boggs said that he does not feel that Governor Fallin did not appoint someone by the end of the legislative session on purpose. He said he knows several people were being considered for the appointment and that he submitted Oklahomans for Responsible Water Policy President Charlette Hearne for the position.
An inquiry was made early Tuesday afternoon to the media office of Governor Mary Fallin for comments concerning the appointment. The Governor’s office did not give a reply by close of business on Tuesday.
Reprinted with permission