OPEA Holds Historic Legislative Town Meeting in Lawton

Armed with its 2008 platform, the newly formed OPEA Comanche County chapter held its first legislative meeting on Thursday, January 17, with some 80 state employees plus five local legislators discussing the upcoming legislative session.

Formed this past October, the chapter, under the leadership of president Hank Swearingen of the Jim Taliaferro Mental Health center, turned up the volume on its elected officials.

“Since officially becoming a chapter, these members have been hard at work educating non members, building a bridge of communications between local agencies including Human Services, Health, Corrections, Juvenile Affairs and Employment Security,” said OPEA membership representative Tarajee Stevenson. “It was due to their hard work that the meeting was a huge success.”

OPEA deputy director Scott Barger called the meeting to order, reminding members that they will have to stay involved in the political process for their goals to be met.

“Sometimes it’s those who speak the loudest who get attention,” he said. “By coming to this event tonight, you have shown that you realize that you carry the power in your hands to make a difference,” he said.

Attending the meeting were five Republican legislators, Rep. Don Armes, Rep. Ann Coody, Rep. T.W. Shannon, Rep. Joe Dorman and Sen. Don Barrington.

“I’m excited to hear from a group other than the teachers,” said Rep. Shannon. “And, while I have nothing against teachers, their unity and visibility have a lot to do with their success.”

Rep. Coody, in her remarks, expressed her empathy with state employees with their ongoing battle to cure their seemingly incurable issues.

“I would gladly support a pay raise for state employees,” she said, “however, while my single vote will not get a raise through, I believe that if all the elected officials here tonight come together we can have a greater impact by expressing our support when we are at the Capitol.”

Rep. Armes told the crowd that the legislators attending take their issues seriously, while also expressing his support for a pay raise.

Armes also mentioned the importance of OPEA.

“You have a great lobbying group working for you,” he said.

After the legislators spoke, the floor was turned over the questions.

Keith Tampkins, an employee of the Department of Rehabilitative Services pointed out the fact that his position as an Employment Specialist requires him to have a college level education.

“However I often place clients in positions that don’t require any college education at more than I make,” he said.

Another state employee said it is not uncommon for state employees to meet the qualifications for public assistance.

Stevenson said that the chapter has gotten off to a great start.

“These great state employees realize now that they can truly make a difference by realizing they have many of the same issues and that by uniting, they can have their voices heard,” she said.

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