As a Guthrie city councilman, I participated in the important process of hiring a city manager. As councilpersons we knew this was one of our most important duties and the vote to hire must be made with great deliberation. After all, the new city manager would take control of a multi-million dollar organization.
We sorted through the résumés of the many applicants, reviewed their credentials and utilized a multi-step hiring process designed to discover the best candidates.
Once hired, the city manager would need to come before the council to receive approval for his actions. In this way, the city benefited from both the professional management of the city manager and a transparent public vote by the council.
As a member of the House of Representatives, I would expect the House would use a similar deliberative process for managing the $17 million given to the House of Representatives to spend each year. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
Management of the House resides within sole authority of the Speaker of the House.
He hires the chief of staff at his discretion, sets policy and is the sole authority for approving the policy and expenditures from the $17 million budget. This decision-making process is completely within the domain of one person. Any deliberative process isn’t readily exposed to the light of public purview and little keeps the Speaker from capricious and arbitrary decision making, or worse, political retaliation against his enemies, real or perceived. For years, House Speakers have leveraged this tremendous power to reward their friends and supporters while punishing their opponents.
The Speaker of the House is not elected through transparent due process but simply through a secret ballot of the political group that has the most members of the House. Over the years I have observed seven of these elections. Not once do I recall the Speaker’s ability to manage a multi-million dollar budget as being a reason for why one candidate should be elected instead of another. The fact that the winning candidate will be responsible for spending $17 million a year doesn’t seem to factor into the campaign but simply remains an afterthought subjected to politics of the Speaker’s election.
The reader can only imagine the fear that goes through the mind of a House member as he tries to figure out who to give his secret vote for the very powerful position of Speaker. The pressure on those members is unbelievable.
It’s a very bad process and it needs reform.
To that end, former House Speaker T.W. Shannon sought to disperse the power of the Speaker by creating a Governance Committee. Ideally, once fully evolved, the bipartisan committee would meet in public, use best hiring practices to hire a chief of staff to manage the House, set policy, create the budget and approve all claims much like a City Council governs the policies and budget for a city. This would take place through public and transparent voting for which the members of the committee could be held accountable.
This also would take some of the politics out of the electing of the Speaker as the committee process would provide a layer of protection for those who voted for the losing candidate.
Shannon’s Governance Committee is still in its infancy. It hasn’t been officially empowered according to House rules. However, it has been impaneled and hopefully with the continued support of House leadership will quickly evolve and officially assume the power of operating the House.
Through Shannon’s willingness to give up his power as Speaker he wrote the roadmap for the reform of House governance. It’s now our responsibility to follow this plan.
REP. JASON MURPHEY, R-Guthrie, represents House District 31, which encompasses all of Logan County and a portion of northern Edmond. He may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.