OKLAHOMA CITY — The head of the state Department of Corrections quit abruptly Wednesday, effective immediately.
Bobby Cleveland, executive director of Oklahoma Corrections Professionals, which represents about a thousand correctional employees, said Joe Allbaugh had just watched his agency oversight board elect new leadership when he suddenly asked to use a personal point of privilege.
Then he unexpectedly quit after nearly 3.5 years at the helm.
Before he left, he praised correctional employees and admonished the agency’s oversight board.
“Please do not become the Legislature and treat them (the employees) like second-class citizens,” he said, according to eCapitol, a legislative news and tracking service. “They deserve your attention, and they deserve their knowledge to be heard.”
He thanked his employees. He thanked the board and wished them luck. Then he walked out, Cleveland said.
“I’m just sick,” Cleveland said, adding he was surprised Allbaugh quit so soon.
“Really, it’s disturbing, shocking, aggravating. It’s a sad day for the state of Oklahoma and a sad day for the Department of Corrections,” Cleveland said.
He said Allbaugh genuinely cared about the agency’s employees and trying to ensure proper care to tens of thousand of inmates behind bars.
“Corrections is a hard job, and it’s hard to find somebody to take his place,” he said. “I don’t know if they have any contingency plans.”
Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt also was apparently caught off guard by the abrupt resignation, saying he was just learning of it early Wednesday afternoon during an unrelated public appearance across town.
He promised a smooth transition as the state launches a nationwide search for Allbaugh’s replacement.
Stitt said Oklahomans elected him to do things differently, so he’s appointing new people to agency oversight boards to bring new thoughts into how agencies should be managed.
He said he expects his board members to dig into details, question executive directors and hold them accountable.
“Sometimes the pressure — the heat, you know — starts intensifying, and you’ll see folks that decide they’re going to do something else, and that’s fine,” he said.
He praised the corrections board for asking tough questions.
“We (were) excited to work with (Allbaugh), but he’s got to work with his board, and he’s got to be willing to answer tough questions,” Stitt said. “He’s got to be able to be accountable to them because they are coming in and digging into the weeds and digging into details, and sometimes that is uncomfortable if you haven’t had that type of oversight before.”