One of the most knowledgeable people regarding state government in Oklahoma is Oklahoma Public Employees Association President Gary Jones. The association is a non-profit organization that represents more than 10,000 employees of the state. Jones began his career with the association in 1984 as a Membership Services Representative and served in several other capacities until he became President in 1998. He has worked with the Oklahoma Legislature on legislation that improved the operation of state government, including the Workers Compensation Act of 1993, the Oklahoma Personnel Reform Acts of 1994 and 1996 and the Classification Compensation Reform Act of 1999. Jones believes that one of the most important functions that he has performed was to support legislation that imposed restrictions on efforts to privatize state governmental functions.

Jones concluded that many of the claims made in support of efforts to privatize governmental functions were not based on solid research and were often anecdotal in nature. He also saw that some of the privatization efforts enriched well-connected individuals. His observations were recently echoed by a researcher who studied governmental privatization efforts throughout the nation and concluded that “privatization is often patronage for those in pinstripes.” The resulting law requires that before any privatization occurs in Oklahoma that state employees have the right to compete with private sector interests to perform the governmental function in question and that the agency seeking the privatization must be able to show that it will result in either a savings for the state or that it will be done more efficiently and effectively by private parties.

During the last legislative session, Jones worked with the Senate leadership in preparing a comprehensive program that addressed the funding problems of the Department of Corrections and also accompanied legislators on several trips to Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, where they saw first hand the dangerous conditions that the employees of that facility had to deal with on a daily basis. As OPEA president, Jones has traveled to virtually every state operated facility in the state, including other DOC sites and mental health facilities, and he has visited with state employees in all of Oklahoma’s 77 counties.

Jones has spoken about Oklahoma’s state government in a variety of forums in recent months. While a variety of commentators and editorial writers have argued that state government in Oklahoma is too large, or is growing at a rapid rate or is wasteful and inefficient, the OPEA president has facts that refute those allegations. He points out that the Oklahoma is in the bottom tier of states when it comes to per capita spending on state government and was in fact last in the nation in that regard until relatively recently. Jones relies on figures from the state Office of Personnel Management to show that the state essentially has slightly more employees today that it had in 1983, despite the fact that the state has increased in both population and in the services it provides to the citizenry since that time. While the rate of growth in state government has increased in the past several years, Jones observes that this has occurred since the 1980s when many programs were cut drastically back due to the decrease in state revenues that followed the oil bust. And while state government has been rocked by scandals in recent years, Jones reminds us that the findings of actual wrongdoing were relatively few and were often minor. There were only four employees of the state Health Department that were found to have been “ghost employees.” And while there was much media attention regarding the alleged misuse of state vehicles, only a few of those vehicles were in fact used inappropriately

The audit of the Office of Juvenile Affairs revealed that that agency failed to follow the contractual procedures for state agencies that are mandated by state laws, but there was no finding that state money had been wasted or misused. When one considers that the state budget is slightly over $ 6 billion, Jones maintains that the incidence of impropriety are in fact isolated events

Gary Jones believes that state employees are conscientious and hard-working people who do a very good job considering the resources that they are given to work with.

And his words should be heeded next month when the people of Oklahoma are told by certain parties at the beginning of the legislative session that they are overtaxed and that state government is too large.

Tags

Recommended for you