Pauls Valley, OK, Pauls Valley Democrat

October 30, 2012

Countdown to SORC vote raises old fears

Commissioners meet could decide fate of resource centers

Ezra Mann
Pauls Valley Democrat — Old concerns have been made new again as an upcoming Oklahoma Commission for Human Services meeting could impact the fate of two of the state’s resource centers.

After being given a reprieve by Gov. Mary Fallin back in September, supporters of both the Southern Oklahoma Resource Center of Pauls Valley and its sister site in Enid are once again on edge as the commission is expected to discuss the future of both at a special meeting Thursday, Nov. 1.

According to DHS Communications Director Sheree Powell, a vote discussing closure or changes for either former state school was still on the agenda as of Monday, Oct. 29 with the feeling that the time is appropriate.

“As far as I know we are expecting it to be on the agenda,” said Powell. “We’ve been doing a lot of research and study... and that’s what they’ve been doing... gathering as much information as possible.”

Powell said the date has been chosen because it coincides with the start date of the new DHS Director Ed Lake, someone they feel is qualified to weigh in on the issue. This is due to his previous experiences with closures when he worked with a similar agency in Tennessee.

Lake officially took over the position on Oct. 15 and since then has been kept informed by human services commissioners who have spent time comparing home based care and exploring the current state of both facilities, said Powell.

It was upon Lake’s acceptance that he was quoted in the Daily Oklahoman as finding favor in clients going to community based options versus an institutional setting.

Fallin was also quoted as giving her blessing to Lake and confidence when she made the appointment.

“He has been informed by the commissioners as they’ve explored the issue,” said Powell, confirming how Lake has not spoken with individuals connected to SORC or NORCE, but feels he has been informed enough.

“He has already weighed on that issue... We would expect he would make additional comments in the meeting on the first.”

However, for those like SORC’s Parent Guardian Association President Ken Talley, the vote is not coming at what they feel is an appropriate time and enough exploration of the issue has not taken place.

The immediate red flag raised for them has been how this meeting falls only days before election day on Tuesday, Nov. 6 where the commission’s future could be decided through State Question 765.

The election item basically asks voters whether or not to disband the commission and replace it with an advisory panel, which is why Talley does not feel it makes sense why they can’t wait and see if they’ll even be around after polls close.

The PGA would welcome the change as it would allow them to be represented on the panel overseeing the disability services division instead of what they saw as one sided when NORCE was the only facility with representation on the commission.

For the moment, Talley said there is not much they can do other than to ask and be able to speak for SORC during the meeting.

Some of the concerns he feels have not been fully addressed includes a formal response to their own plan to keep SORC open and a report on how former SORC residents have done when transferred into the community.

As of Monday afternoon Talley still had not heard back on whether they could be allowed on the agenda.

“We don’t see it as prudent to us when we don’t know if the commission will continue... We don’t know why they would vote when they don’t know their own future,” said Talley, adding how SORC’s clients have not ever been given any kind of option other than closure and being split up between NORCE relocation or community care.

“Our feeling is there hasn’t been given attention for any alternative for us... It could be important for the whole state, but we don’t know.”

The commissioner’s meeting is set to take place at 1:30 p.m. in the concourse room at the Sequoyah Building in Oklahoma City.