The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Opinion

March 9, 2014

Strange bedfellows

Department of Tourism, History and Cultural Affairs sounds confusing

ENID, Okla. — Five state agency directors expressed astonishment after learning of Gov. Mary Fallin’s plan to consolidate them into the Oklahoma Department of Tourism and Recreation.

The bamboozled honchos were surprised by Fallin’s announcement last month during her State of the State address.

Projecting a 15 percent savings, Fallin suggested the Tourism Department absorb the Oklahoma Arts Council, J.M. Davis Memorial Commission, Oklahoma Historical Society, Will Rogers Memorial Commission and Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission.

Bob Blackburn, executive director of the Historical Society, told The Oklahoman the bill originally was going to be presented to the Senate Appropriations Committee, but the legislation died due to a lack of a hearing.

Then the committee chairman, state Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, reportedly said he inserted language requested by Fallin into House Bill 3028. It passed out of state committee recently with the House Government Modernization Committee’s narrow 6-5 vote.

Although Fallin mentioned consolidating the J.M. Davis Memorial Commission, Will Rogers Memorial Commission and Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission into Tourism in her February speech, those agencies were omitted from HB 3028. Murphey told the newspaper he didn’t know why.

The new legislation calls for the consolidation of Tourism, the Arts Council and the Historical Society into a new mouthful: The hydra-headed entity would be known as the Department of Tourism, History and Cultural Affairs.

While that sounds like a confusing combination, Fallin claims housing the Arts Council and Historical Society under Tourism would “enhance, not detract” from their respective missions.

However, Blackburn told The Oklahoman the three agencies serve quite diverse missions. He sees no benefit from this particular consolidation.

We agree with Blackburn’s comments. History focuses on education and heritage, while tourism promotes image in the name of economic development. When history is influenced by economic development and image, it blurs into marketing.

Further, more than $1.5 million of federal and regional funding and programs could be at risk.

We appreciate the good intentions of cutting government waste, but these strange bedfellows aren’t the answer.

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