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With newfound hiring power, Stitt still interviewing for state agency directors

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After the Oklahoma Legislature granted Gov. Kevin Stitt unprecedented oversight of certain state agencies this year, Stitt has not made sweeping changes to who leads some the state’s largest agencies.

He is still mulling over who he wants to lead the Department of Corrections, Oklahoma Health Care Authority and Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

Stitt has not said if he will keep on the current agency heads or hire new agency directors to manage those three agencies. But in a recent news conference, he said he interviewed the current agency directors in addition to outside candidates.

“I’m taking my time to make sure I get the right hires in those positions,” Stitt said recently.

Terri White is the commissioner of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. Becky Pasternik-Ikard is the CEO of the Health Care Authority. Joe Allbaugh is the Department of Corrections director.

The Legislature passed bills and Stitt signed into law this year measures that give the governor the power to hire and fire the heads of five state agencies.

The so-called agency accountability legislation was a big talking point of Stitt’s gubernatorial campaign because Stitt and legislative leaders complained the old system insulated agency heads from voters.

The new law also grants Stitt the power to hire and fire the heads of the Office of Juvenile Affairs and the Oklahoma Department of Transportation.

Stitt reappointed Steve Buck to lead the Office of Juvenile Affairs.

The governor tapped Tim Gatz to lead the Department of Transportation, filling a vacancy that cropped up when the former executive director announced he would retire.

The state Senate confirmed both appointments in recent weeks. Buck and Gatz also serve as members of Stitt’s cabinet as secretary of Transportation and secretary of Human Services and Early Childhood Initiatives.

The governor's other agency appointments would require Senate confirmation. Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat said he's pleased the governor is taking his time on the appointments to really do his due diligence.

"We want to make sure that he’s methodical in that approach and that he has had an opportunity to interview the people who are currently in the position, but other people who may be good fits there," Treat said.

Stitt recently stressed he is undertaking a thorough vetting process to determine who will lead the other state agencies. He also cited the size of the agencies, which are some of the state’s largest, as a reason to interview numerous candidates and take his time on any hiring decisions.

The Health Care Authority and the departments of Corrections and Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services employ nearly 10,000 employees combined.

“You can’t just make a snap decision,” he said. “These are big, big, CEO-type jobs so I’m looking everywhere and turning over every rock.”

Carmen Forman

Carmen Forman covers the state Capitol and governor's office for The Oklahoman. A Norman native and graduate of the University of Oklahoma, she previously covered state politics in Virginia and Arizona before returning to Oklahoma. Read more ›

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