The State Director of the Oklahoma Employment Services Commission (OESC) Just resigned, yesterday. Her oversight Board was set to vote her out at an emergency meeting scheduled for next week.
Robin Roberson was only on the job 4 months, when she quit the post. It happens as her agency struggles to respond to the worst employment crisis in more than 50 years.
Federal funds are supposed to be issued to thousands of Oklahoma workers, but after 2 months of waiting, thousands still don't have their first check. That's the fault of the OESC, and Roberson is responsible to make that happen.
In all fairness, the foundational problems with the OESC are deeper than one director. The 5-member board of commissioners who hired Roberson this past winter, are now handing off many of the functions to the OMES.
"We need help. We need a lot of help," Commissioner Trent Smith said. "And this is not your fault, Director Roberson. I mean you were thrust into a completely unwinnable situation here. But we've got to get the help we need from OMES."
And this is one agency where the governor has direct appointment authority. It does fall upon the governor's shoulders to spot the challenges facing our state and all the services that our people entrust to the state government. Failure to spot and address this crisis is perhaps Governor Stitt's biggest failure of the past 17 months in his first term.
Stitt has shown some humility toward his inexperience in govt operations. He has apologized to legislative leaders for a failure to better communicate with them. That problem manifested with the legislature circumventing the governor out of the budgeting process. Last week the legislature, Democrats included; voted to impose a state budget upon the governor's administration, after he vetoed the bills.
Gov. Stitt Thanks Roberson..
"I want to thank Robin Roberson for her service during these unprecedented times. Oklahomans have the expectation that state services will be available when they need them the most, and I know there are still many Oklahomans waiting for unemployment benefits.
I have confidence that the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission will identify the right leader to quickly get to the bottom of the issues exposed by this pandemic, to continue to modernize its antiquated systems as we move forward, and to deliver the services Oklahomans deserve.”
Beyond making that statement, Kevin Stitt offered no assistance or response to the request for another agency (OMES) to take over OESC duties. He appears to be avoiding any direct involvement in the concern for needed reforms of the agency. Unless he takes the initiative, it will fall upon the legislature to impose those reforms upon the current administration. If Stitt is doing more than that, he's avoiding sharing that news with the public, or more importantly, the "mad as hell" families who are facing evictions and foreclosures due to state govt agency failures. He will be blamed, even if he's only avoiding involvement.
Why Employers Need To Demand Agency Reform..
This is an agency funded by the federal govt, and assessing fees on businesses. The employers have every right to demand proper accounting of this agency which they are paying for. Even factories and industries considering a move to Oklahoma should see this as a functional problem.
Sam Walton said, in his only book (Made In America),
"If your workers needs are not being met, how can they focus on meeting your customer's needs?"
If we want companies to relocate to Oklahoma, we must show that we have a superior workforce and a state infrastructure of assistance to the best workforce. This is solely a duty of the state govt.
But more strategically, the workers' rightful discontent is a serious concern to employers. In this case, the employers are not the ones who failed. Mostly, they were ordered to shut down and lose their valued workforce by the federal and state governments.
Sen. James Leewright, Senate Commerce Chair, sent us this statement:
"Rep Martinez and I are fully engaged with OESC and have been for 6 plus weeks. I am not sure if we will do interim study or something more in depth. Our concerns currently, is to make sure Oklahomans that are in need of benefits are receiving them while protecting the fund from fraud.
Depending on how long the current surge last will determine when we dive in to decide how we make this a better process. To do so before would take resources away from those who need them the most and could further disrupt the process."
Rep Ryan Martinez, House Commerce Chair, added:
"Myself and Senator Leewright have been working tirelessly to get this agency moving to get claimants the money that they deserve and need. Sen. Leewright and I are on the same page and will be doing a postmortem on what one can describe as an absolute disaster.
There will be a much more in depth study and investigation once OESC is able to get systems working and fully operational. At this point it appears that there are some serious infrastructure problems that are being addressed and would be problematic to disrupt the limited manpower in the middle of this crisis.
There is absolutely no way that we can let this happen again. It has been somewhat challenge for legislators as OESC is 100% executive agency. But I assure you that Senator Leewright and I will do everything in our power to get this agency fixed and serving Oklahomans that desperately need help. "
Here's info on the OESC, from their own website.
Rep. Scott Fetgatter serves on several committees, including the House Commerce committee. He sent us his statement:
"My office has very engaged in constituent needs dealing with all the problems concerning unemployment claims.
We have assisted hundreds of Oklahomans in helping connect the communication break downs between OESC and these families in their time of need.
OESC had no way to prepare for this kind of influx of people losing their jobs due to COVID19 but also haven't provided rapid response solutions to the issue either.
When we first became involved (early when most lay offs happened) we were able to get things accomplished quickly for our constituents.
Over the past month it seems problem solving has become more cumbersome and bureaucratic.
The legislature only has one way to help constituents with these terrible situations and we are struggling with communications ourselves.
It's critical that OESC and the Executive branch of government step up and provide Oklahoma citizens with top tier service as well the legislature quick response processes to alleviate any more damage to Oklahoma families."
Surprisingly, the Democrats in the legislature have not been very responsive, either. This is unthinkable, given the historic position of the Democrat claim to be "for the working families". It's something former Democrat leader, Scott Inman would have immediately seized upon for political leverage. We've not seen anything from current Democrat leader, Emily Virgin.
Former Dem. Leader, Steve Kouplin, told Sooner Politics in 2018; "The Tea Party originally started out as being for working families. It was just as much Democrat as Republican, in the beginning. The mom & pops businesses got nothing from the 2009 bailouts & stimulus, but the 'too big to fail' corporations got everything."