Lt. Governor promises to 'clean up' tourism and restore morale in new position

Governor Kevin Stitt names Lt. Governor Matt Pinnell his Secretary of Tourism and Branding (Phil Cross/KOKH).

Promoting Oklahoma is the priority of the Department of Tourism, but the agency found itself facing scrutiny after a series of FOX 25 Investigations. In early 2018, a special House investigative committee looked into the concerns that ranged from improper payments and firings to secret meetings which planned what would be addressed prior to public meetings.

RELATED: Tourism leaders questioned by House investigative committee

Governor Kevin Stitt says that activity is the past and his plan for more agency accountability is already showing results.

“We're getting tremendous feedback [from agency employees]; they are very excited about a new administration and a new direction,” the governor told a group of reporters at the capitol on Thursday.

For tourism, that new direction is with the new Lieutenant Governor Matt Pinnell. Governor Stitt announced Pinnell will serve as the Secretary of Tourism and Branding.

“We just wanted Oklahoma to know that the Lt. Governor and myself work together,” Stitt said. “He's a fantastic ambassador for the state.”

It is not uncommon for the Lieutenant Governor to serve on the cabinet and, by law, one of the few official duties of the office is to chair the Tourism Commission. That commission is largely advisory in nature after legislation changed the agency to allow the governor to hire and fire the executive director.

In his new position though, Pinnell promised to continue his commitment to promoting Oklahoma.

“Let's invest here because when we tell people how great Oklahoma is, and when we get people off our roads and bridges spending money dropping sales tax dollars across our 77 counties, it helps everybody out,” Pinnell told FOX 25.

Pinnell says he has already visited with Tourism employees and is well aware of past audits and investigations which pointed out problems ranging from the state underpaying employees to the lawsuits that cost Oklahoma hundreds of thousands of dollars due to the improper treatment of tourism employees.

“Cleaning up these agencies, tourism one of them, I've already been meeting with a few of the attorneys and the [Chief Financial Officer] that was placed over there and looking at continuing things that need to be changed and staff morale over there as well,” Pinnell said.

The Lieutenant Governor also promised a commitment to transparency.

“These are things we're going to take very seriously at every single agency and make sure taxpayer dollars are spent wisely and in the right manner and maximizing those dollars,” Pinnell told FOX 25.

Already underway are interviews to lead the Tourism Department. While the current executive Director Dick Dutton will be interviewed to keep the position, Governor Sitt said he is interviewing as many as 10 people for each position he is hiring to ensure he finds the right people to lead state agencies.

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