EDMOND, Okla. — Agency accountability is the No. 1 accomplishment of Gov. Kevin Stitt’s administration in 2019, he said at the Edmond Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon Monday.
Twelve agencies control 92% of the state budget. So in March state lawmakers agreed with Stitt to let him hire and fire the top agency heads. Stitt began getting “the right people” in those different positions, he said.
There are 18 new agency heads in state government. He touted his choice of Oklahoma City businessman Steven Bickley to transform Pardon and Parole, and Scott Crow to lead the Oklahoma Department of Corrections.
“Those two individuals are finally working together, sharing resources. Before, the former two never even talked to each other — never communicated,” Stitt said. “Pardon and Parole, and Corrections are really so connected. You want to give certain people — a nonviolent person — a second chance, and you want to keep the bad folks in prison. You’ve got to communicate.”
Meanwhile the State of Oklahoma had the largest commutation in the nation’s history in early November with 450 nonviolent offenders released from incarceration, Stitt said, amid applause. He credited Oklahoma voters for making some simple drug possessions a misdemeanor instead of a felony in 2016. Oklahoma is down 1,500 beds since Jan. 1, Stitt lauded.
“The other thing that made that so successful is we brought 28 job fairs, re-entry fairs, back into the prisons. And it never happened before. So in other words we talked about transportation, housing, education, getting your kids back from foster care,” Stitt said.
Stitt brought state personnel from the Department of Public Safety into the prisons to issue drivers licenses so that people can have transportation to jobs.
“We don’t want recidivism to be higher. We want them to be integrated back into society,” Stitt said.
Stitt went on to highlight his new appointee to the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, Justin Brown, who serves as the director. DHS is Oklahoma’s largest state agency. When Stitt came to the Governor’s office there were 6,500 DHS employees. In five months Brown has identified 500 DHS positions to eliminate, Stitt said.
DHS is holding summits for the first time with the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, and the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
Be a Neighbor is an initiative DHS will begin this year, Stitt said, adding that government cannot solve social problems by itself. Standing with people in need solves more problems than passing new laws, Stitt explained.
Twenty-seven kids in Cleveland County have aged out in the past year. Stitt said he cannot imagine being dropped off on a street as a teenager without knowing where to go. He said his administration is engaging churches and non profits to solve their problems across the state, whether its foster care, incarcerates leaving prison, or teenage drop-outs.
Stitt said his administration is breaking down how mentorship and being a good neighbor can better help resolve the needs of 77 counties.