Hostile takeover disguised as consolidation

House Bill 3028 is referred to as a "consolidation bill." By reading the fine print, it is actually a hostile takeover. Let's use the language of business to describe what is happening.

Like any public corporation, the Oklahoma Historical Society has shareholders, a board of directors, a management team, assets, and an action plan. The only difference is on the bottom line. Whereas a business defines success in terms of profit, the OHS defines success in terms of collecting, preserving, and sharing Oklahoma history.

The shareholders are the members and donors who have invested in our mission. Reflecting our success, the number of member-shareholders has increased from 1,500 in 1989 to almost 10,000 today. On top of that are some of Oklahoma's most important companies, foundations, tribes, and community leaders who consider themselves shareholders with investments that average $3 million a year.

House Bill 3028, in clear language, abolishes the membership of the OHS. Yes, there would be no member-shareholders if the bill is passed. In fact, this bill would surpass most hostile takeovers and be closer in analogy to taking a public corporation private. In this case, it would be taking it political.

The OHS Board of Directors, which is empowered by the member-shareholders either through elections or gubernatorial appointment, is a group of twenty-five citizens who give their time and treasure to serve the OHS. The board is the governing body of the public corporation with the authority to hire the top managers, set goals, review results, and allocate assets.

House Bill 3028 converts the OHS Board of Directors to an advisory group with no authority. The director of Tourism, as it is spelled out in the bill, would hire top managers and all staff, set goals, and allocate resources. Even the watered-down advisory board, devoid of real authority, would change every time a new governor is elected.

The OHS management team, as in any corporate structure, currently serves at the pleasure of the board of directors. The executive director, in turn, is the appointing authority who selects division directors, who have the authority to hire their staffs. At each level of this management hierarchy, we have historians and museum professionals with the skill sets to carry out the goals set by the board.

House Bill 3028 transfers the authority to hire all OHS managers to the director of Tourism, which traditionally has been a position filled by either a large donor or a celebrity. The Tourism director's average term of service over the past thirty years has been less than three years. Consolidation would drag top management of the so-called history division into the political arena.

Through an entrepreneurial business plan and generous contributors, the OHS has accumulated impressive capitalization in collections, cash, and fund-raising capabilities, which has helped us earn affiliations with both the Smithsonian and National Archives. This includes an endowment that hovers around $3.9 million, an award-winning History Center in a prominent location, and some of the most important historic properties in the state.

House Bill 3028 transfers all property, collections, and cash to Tourism, where the power to use these resources would rest solely with the new director. The many commitments for how we use resources accumulated over decades as promised could be subject to new priorities more aligned with image and tourism than heritage and education.

Finally, the action plan developed by the OHS Board of Directors and management team is based on an integrated set of priorities that cascades down from a central set of historical contexts to strategic goals, annual objectives, budgets, and action reports. This overlapping process is predicated on collections and education.

House Bill 3028 places authority over the planning process in the hands of a political appointee whose mission is image and economic development.

So why do we consider this consolidation a hostile takeover? It is because the OHS Board of Directors voted unanimously to reject the suggestion of consolidation. By pressing forward with a last-minute committee substitute after the bill was rejected in the Senate, the proponents of consolidation have turned the conversation into confrontation.

Even when House Bill 3028 is defeated, the OHS will still emerge with wounds. If people perceive that the integrity of an organization that has been earning public trust for more than 120 years is this easy to destroy, might they ask whether they should donate their collections or their resources?

We need to stop this hostile takeover and get back to what we do best, serving the people of a great state by collecting, preserving, and sharing history.

Read More:

Director's Column, Talking Points, and a Message from former Senator Denzil D. Garrison

Time for questions...and answers?

If it ain't broke, don't fix it

Consolidation would weaken public-private partnerships

OHS Accomplishments