Time for questions...and answers?
You would think that major changes in mission, governance, resource allocation, and future of an organization that has been successfully serving the people of Oklahoma for 120 years would be carefully studied with a detailed plan. Think again.
The proposal to fold the Oklahoma Historical Society into a super tourism agency was a total surprise to us, to legislative leaders, and to the press when it was released on February 3, 2014. So, where has the conversation gone since then? Not very far, limited to one meeting in Bob Blackburn's office the night before the bill was about to die in the Senate, and a series of quotes from the Governor's office to the press.
The meeting in Blackburn's office on February 18 was the first time he had seen a copy of the bill now known as House Bill 3028. He was not asked what he thought, but he was told that if it was defeated in the Senate, it would, quote, "not go away." Well, it did not go away after defeat, but was resurrected at the last moment in the dark of night as a committee substitute with less than twenty-four hours to respond. The next time we are threatened, we will take it seriously.
The quotes to the press from the governor's staff and appointees represent the rest of the conversation. Here are a few of those, with what would have been said if given the chance.
Quote: "The governor's lack of consultation with impacted agencies is not a bad thing."
Response: What can we say to that?
Quote: "Consolidation will preserve the agency's mission at a time when the budget is tight and some lawmakers would like to abolish it."
Response: There has never been an attempt to abolish the Oklahoma Historical Society. In fact, we are constantly used as an example of an agency that has done more with less by developing an entrepreneurial business plan based on higher standards, greater efficiencies, and partnerships. In Blackburn's thirty-five years of public service, budgets have always been tight. We have learned to serve the people with other resources, both donated and earned.
Quote: "When a smaller agency is consolidated into a larger agency, they can save on back office expenses like human resources and office space."
Response: The Oklahoma Historical Society is not a small agency. Combined operations including appropriations, earned revenue, grants, and donations, exceed $22 million. And with more than 150 employees and a complex, statewide mission, we have one human resources person, one purchasing agent, and four accountants. What about that open office space? Around here, any unused space is quickly home to a historic collection.
Quote: "We haven't proposed eliminating the board . . . we envision the Historical Society operating as a department within the tourism agency."
Response: Yes, they included an OHS Board of Directors in House Bill 3028, but it is advisory only, appointed by the governor, without any powers of resource allocation or selecting top managers. And there would be no membership to link the board with grassroots citizens across the state. The board would reflect politics, not the people.
Quote: "Housing these two agencies as independent entities in the Department of Tourism will enhance, not detract from their missions."
Response: First, the OHS would not be independent. The executive director and entire staff would be selected by the director of Tourism and all assets, both collections and funds, would be transferred to Tourism. Most importantly, the missions of the two agencies are not even in the same league. The mission of Tourism should be image and economic development. The mission of the OHS is heritage and education.
Maybe there will be more conversations about the implications of abolishing the Oklahoma Historical Society as we know it. Let's hope there is no reason to do so.