NewsOK: Oklahoma City News, Sports, Weather & Entertainment

Capital City: Stitt turns to hospitality sector for key hires

Good Monday morning. 

Gov. Kevin Stitt has turned to the hospitality sector for two positions critical to fulfilling his campaign pledge to bring business principles to state agencies.

John Budd, 51, a former executive at Sonic Corp. and a Boston-based consulting firm, is Stitt's chief operating officer. David Ostrowe, 50, the president of O&M Restaurant Group, is Stitt’s nominee for secretary of digital transformation and administration.

"We are not coming in expecting to drive a greater profit, which is, I think, what people sort of think when they think about business people in government," Budd said.

Instead, Budd said efficiency, responsiveness to customers and quick decision making would be hallmarks of Stitt's administration. 

I have a story in today's Oklahoman about Budd and Ostrowe. Both were also guests on the latest episode of Political State, which you can watch here or download in your podcast app. 

State executions remain stalled ... Ten months after abandoning lethal injection, frustrated Oklahoma officials have yet to find a way to execute inmates with nitrogen gas.

"I've got both arms tied behind my back," said Joe Allbaugh, director of the Oklahoma Corrections Department.

At issue is an inability so far to find a manufacturer of a gas delivery device willing to sell it for use in executions.

"They're all concerned and afraid of the same thing — every one of them — retribution, losing their business, protests," Allbaugh said in an interview last week. "They're concerned for their employees, the threats that come."

Hern worth more than rest of delegation ... Freshman U.S. Rep. Kevin Hern has assets valued up to $93 million, making him by far the wealthiest member of Oklahoma's congressional delegation and possibly the richest ever.

Hern, a Tulsa Republican who took office early this month, reported to the clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives last year that the assets he was required to list were valued between $38.7 million and $92.9 million.

Horn pledges bipartisan effort ... U.S. Rep. Kendra Horn told constituents at a town hall Saturday she's a moderate working across the political aisle to secure the border and keep the government open.

“My standpoint about border security is that we need to have a smart, comprehensive slate of solutions. What I mean by that is, we need to look at the technology and the right combination of things that's going to make us both safe and secure,” the Democrat from Oklahoma City said Saturday.

“In some places, that may include some form of a physical barrier. In many places, we need technology. There are sensors, there are drones, there are things we can do that will help to notify our Border Patrol agents on a more rapid basis,” she said. The Oklahoman's Justin Wingerter has more from Horn's town hall

Mayor David Holt on President Trump ... From the New York Times: “I think it’s healthy and appropriate for the party to consider in 2020 whether this is really the path it wants to continue taking,” OKC Mayor David Holt said.  More from the Times: While core Republican voters remain loyal to him and he is not currently facing a contest for the nomination, President Donald Trump’s low standing with political moderates and especially women is leading some G.O.P. officeholders to voice unease about having him at the top of the ticket next year. 

Couch charts new course ... Jim Couch, Oklahoma City's former city manager, is going to work as a consultant for the Chickasaw Nation and an engineering firm, Smith Roberts Baldischwiler. Couch, a licensed civil engineer, retired Jan. 2 after 18 years as city manager. He said his engineering work could involve water issues, one of his primary interests.

Women make gains in Legislature ... From the Associated Press: Oklahoma has traditionally ranked among the states with the fewest women in elected office, but the state made huge gains in the Legislature in November and several of top leadership posts are now held by female lawmakers.

Although the Sooner State lost its first female governor, Mary Fallin, to term limits, it increased the percentage of women in the state Legislature from 13.4 percent in 2017 to 21.5 percent in 2019, one of the sharpest increases in the country.

Former top lawmaker agrees to settlement ... Rep. Gus Blackwell has agreed to pay $25,000 to the state to settle a lawsuit that accused him of misusing campaign funds. The Laverne Republican already has paid $10,000 in restitution to the state House to resolve a criminal case over the same accusations.

He was accused in the criminal case of embezzling $23,741 in campaign funds, committing perjury and making false claims.

Audit finds problems in Broken Arrow ... Broken Arrow has changed the way it manages downtown redevelopment after an audit revealed that more than $20,000 in transactions by the Broken Arrow Economic Development Corp. in 2017 were found to be excessive or personal in nature, reports the Tulsa World. 

According to a statement from the city, Broken Arrow City Manager Michael Spurgeon received several complaints from former Chamber of Commerce employees and two members of the EDC board of directors regarding questionable business practices and possible inappropriate use of chamber and EDC funds by the former president and CEO Wes Smithwick.

Thanks for reading. Got questions, suggestions or complaints? Email me at 

Ben Felder

Ben Felder is an investigative reporter for The Oklahoman. A native of Kansas City, Ben has lived in Oklahoma City since 2010 and covered politics, education and local government for the Oklahoma Gazette before joining The Oklahoman in 2016.... Read more ›