by Patrick B. McGuigan, editor
OKLAHOMA CITY – A shocking murder took place in August, when Commissioner of Labor Mark Costello’s eldest son, Christian, stabbed his father to death at a restaurant in north Oklahoma City.
Like many other journalists, I reported reactions from state officials and others at the time.
Among many issues highlighted across the philosophical spectrum was agreement that the state must reform provisions and practices relating to the treatment of mental health issues, including those that afflict Christian Costello.
Mark Costello was a remarkable man. Although I did not initially support him for election as commissioner, I became over the course of five years convinced he was the best combination of fiscal conservatism and even-tempered governance among the statewide elected officials. Many of his peers are fine individuals, yet Costello stood out (something many of them expressed after his death).
Aside from his ability as a leader, Mark Costello was a remarkable man who managed — with wit, intelligence, grace and integrity – to forge alliances and friendships across the spectrum of state politics and policy.
In September I supported Mark’s widow, Cathy Costello, to fill the vacancy created by his death, as did many others around the state.
Mrs. Costello had, shortly before, asked Fallin to appoint her to the post. She is the person most like Mark, the man voters chose twice for the job. She will build upon his remarkable and all-too-short time in public life.
Yes, I have a point of view. It is informed with knowledge of the issues and individuals involved – including the late Commissioner – and of public policy in this particular arena.
Oklahoma state law provides, “When any office shall become vacant, [the governor] shall, unless otherwise provided by law, appoint a person to fill such vacancy, who shall continue in office until a successor shall have been duly elected or appointed, and qualified according to law.”
State law also provides, “If any officer of the state, district, county, city, town or other governmental subdivision of this state shall die while in office, and shall leave a surviving spouse, the said surviving spouse shall be eligible (if otherwise qualified) to be appointed to and to hold said office during the term for which the said officer was elected.…”
These provisions are not arcane expressions of the intentions of those long dead.
They are the framework within which decisions are made for leadership in statewide posts, including Commissioner of Labor.
On September 2, Governor Mary Fallin wrote to Stacy Bonner, a financial officer at the Department of Labor, asking her to serve as Acting Commissioner “until such time as I make a formal appointment” to the position.
Curiously, in the letter – a copy of which The City Sentinel has obtained – she referred to Bonner as Deputy Commissioner.
Deputy Commissioner posts can, for cost-saving or other reasons, remain vacant.
Deputy Commissioners are appointed by the head of the agency, that is, the elected or duly-appointed commissioner.
It is not clear that the late Commissioner Costello ever appointed Bonner to the post.
I have no reason to believe he ever did so.
Referring to Bonner as deputy commissioner does not make her so, unless my awareness of the late Commissioner’s actions in this area is faulty.
I have no quarrel with Bonner, yet I advocate the wisdom of established practice and believe she should not be made commissioner.
A better option is available.
The governor has authority to make an appointment. She should do so soon.
I have a point of view and it is this:
Our governor should appoint Cathy Costello to fill out the term of her late husband. Mrs. Costello is qualified in her own right. She is the best choice to continue the progress made in workplace safety, advancement of the interests of workers and improvements in the Oklahoma economy.
NOTE: McGuigan served as Deputy Commissioner of Labor 2005-07. He was appointed to the position during the administration of the late Brenda Reneau.