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Point of View: Stitt right to heed King in appointment strategy

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Jonathan Small
Jonathan Small

Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Gov. Kevin Stitt is heeding this timeless wisdom. Stitt has made outstanding appointments who bring fresh perspectives to positions tasked with implementing his reform agenda.

A majority of Stitt’s key staff are women and his cabinet already comprises the highest number of women serving at the same time as the previous governor. Yet some say the cabinet lacks "diversity."

Stitt has sought to appoint the best-qualified people. That includes Eric Stevenson, a black businessman, and three women, including Lisa Billy, a woman of Chickasaw heritage. They are from unique backgrounds and represent some of Oklahoma’s diversity, but first and foremost, they bring the perspective Stitt, elected with a mandate, has evaluated is necessary to make government effective and accountable.

Stitt’s cabinet officers will influence the expenditure of billions in tax dollars — our dollars — so the criteria in their selection should be policy perspectives, integrity, ability and availability. I am familiar with what criteria are crucial and should be prioritized because I monitored state hiring when I served on the Affirmative Action Review Council.

Consider the $30 million Health Department scandal. High-level appointees and staff engaged in mission creep and lack of accountability. Then funds were hidden from legislative oversight even as some in leadership cried for more revenue. Dozens of state employees were laid off. Money was wasted and people were hurt, all the result of deceit, gross incompetence and the perspective that plagues government personnel all too often: the mistaken belief the problem is we aren’t extracting enough from taxpayers. I witnessed this perspective repeatedly as a state employee for nearly seven years and in my work in government and public policy for the past 22 years.

Other government personnel have been caught in scandals from embezzlement to simple ineptitude, or held allegiance to the status quo. The question isn’t whether those employees were “diverse” enough. The question that should have been asked was, “Are they up to the job?”

Stitt wants to reform, modernize and reshape government. That job requires the best and most dedicated minds in key staff and administrative positions. You get people like that by carefully examining their abilities, philosophies and availability — not by applying theories and contortions that lack context.

An effective governor will make appointments first based on merit. Stitt is doing precisely that. Oklahoma’s most vulnerable, and our state’s future, have too much at stake to do otherwise.

Small is president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (www.ocpathink.org).

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