Today the Oklahoma Public Employees Association filed an injunction against the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, citing a lack of protocol in awarding a contract to a private vendor—a move that could result in a loss of jobs for state employees.
OPEA Executive Director Sterling Zearley, accompanied by Fellers-Snider attorney Carole Houghton, addressed reporters at a Capitol press conference.
“We rarely call for a press conference, so you know today we mean business,” Zearley said. “The Department of Mental Health is in the process even as we speak of privatizing functions formerly performed by state employees and potentially displacing them. The Department has failed to take the mandatory steps set forth in law prior to executing a contract with a private provider.”
OPEA met with ODMHSAS Commissioner Terri White July 9, to discuss the implementation of the agency’s budget. However, White was not forthcoming with her intent to privatize the operations and management of a portion of Building 52 at Griffin Memorial Hospital in Norman.
“We are concerned because Commissioner White is taking a significant portion of the Griffin budget and using it to pay a private contractor,” Zearley said. “The Commissioner has assured us there would be no displacement of employees. However, we believe there is a deliberate attempt to privatize Griffin, and a significant number of dedicated state employees could lose their jobs.
“OPEA has a 35-year reputation for protecting state employees. Commissioner White has not gone through the process required by law to award a private contract. As a result, OPEA talked to our attorneys at Fellers-Snider, and decided the only recourse to protect our state employees and the patients they serve was to take the matter into the legal realm. Until we have the entire story, we will pursue every avenue possible to protect our valuable public servants, the patients they serve, and ultimately hold down costs for taxpayers,” Zearley said.