Thursday, May 22, 2003

Henry Administration Destroying Innovative Economic Agency

It happened in the Department of Tourism and Recreation a few weeks ago and today it is happening at the Oklahoma Department of Commerce. The new Secretary of Commerce and Tourism, Kathryn Taylor, has turned into a hatchet woman - clearing the way for Brad Henry's political appointees by firing scores of professional managers and line personnel. The Existing Business Division was hit hard, with innovative director Beth Van Horn being let go and immediately replaced, without a job posting, with David Hinckle. The International Division of the Department of Commerce, known nationwide as one of the best in trade development, has also been particularly hard hit. Nearly everyone in the division was let go this week and others assigned to domestic duties. The only division not hit so far has been the old-line business recruitment division, headed by Brad Henry's friend, John Reid. Reid got his start in Democratic politics and in George Nigh's Governor office.

In what seems to be a trend with the Henry Administration, old George Nigh and David Walters political functionaries are replacing career professionals. Kathryn Taylor brought in Delmas Ford, formerly Secretary of Transportation under Walters, to take the place of former Department of Commerce Executive Director Ron Bussert - a true professional. Mr. Ford, not known for business or economic development acumen, is seen as Ms. Taylor's link to the state's good ol' boy network. Ms. Taylor, one of the richest people in Oklahoma, has been busy in her first two months destroying the careers of numerous long-serving and low-wage civil servants.

The irony is that when Brad Henry came into office he promised that during these challenging times he would focus on economic development and existing business and globalization. Instead, he and Ms. Taylor are busy destroying one of the premier economic development agencies in the United States. For almost 15 years the Oklahoma Department of Commerce has been remarkably free from political cronyism. While agencies in neighboring Texas, Arkansas and Missouri have floundered under rampant cronyism and political micromanagement at their economic development agencies, Oklahoma had invested in non-political career professionals. Those days seem to be gone under Brad Henry and Kathryn Taylor. This is turning out to be one of the worst administrations in memory.

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