Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison
My experiences with Oklahoma charter schools began the first year (2000 I think) that charters were granted when, as an attorney with the Riggs Abney firm, I began providing services to Dove Science Academy. For several years working with successive executive directors/principals who were immigrants from Turkey I just thought these leaders were clever men who had found a way to make a living and stay in the United States after completing their college education at places like Oklahoma State. Some years into my work with Dove Science Academy I became aware of the fact that Dove was part of a loose network of schools, including the Harmony charter schools in Texas, that were inspired by the work of a Turkish cleric named Fethullah Gulen. Nothing I learned caused me any concern, rather it made me curious to learn more about him when I could find the time. All my interactions with the leadership of Dove, and later Discovery Schools of Tulsa, were with men and women who were wholly committed to educating the children of Tulsa parents who chose to send them to these charter schools. I ended my legal representation of Dove, Discovery and another charter school in 2013 partly to free up more time for other activities, including learning more about the Gulen Movement or Hizmet as it is also called.
Last Thursday Linda and I attended a lecture “Turkey Democracy in Peril” given by Dr. James C. Harrington, founder of the Texas Civil Rights Project, and hosted by The Dialogue Institute, a part of the Gulen Movement. The President of Turkey Tayyip Erdogan has blamed the Gulen Movement for the unsuccessful and violent coup attempt in July, which the Movement has denied. President Erdogan has also demanded the extradition of Fethullah Gulen back to Turkey from Pennsylvania where he has been in self-imposed exile since 1999; to date the U. S. Government has insisted that Turkey must show proof that Gulen was involved in the coup attempt and is following the standards of American due process that protect legal residents as well as citizens in our country. In the aftermath of the coup attempt thousands of police, teachers, military and even judges who are suspected of being Gulen Movement sympathizers have been removed from their jobs and in some cases even jailed. If you are interested in all of this I encourage you to look at websites connected to the Gulen Movement and also to read the October 17, 2016 New Yorker article “The Thirty-Year Coup”.
The following day, Friday the 14th, I was in the courtroom of Oklahoma County District Judge Patricia Parrish to participate in a hearing on motions filed by both sides in the OTC Motor Vehicle Collections lawsuit I described in my 6/22/2016 Post “HB 2244”. It was a pleasure to watch Judge Parrish work through her motion docket; she was well-prepared and respectful of all parties. I couldn’t help but reflect on how valuable it is to all of us, and especially for those who have enjoyed the greatest economic success in our country, to have matters of controversy decided by judges who generally are unbiased and committed to fair treatment of all parties, even the least among us. Unlike the remaining judges in Turkey who have not lost their positions for being supposed Gulen sympathizers, I doubt that Judge Parrish had any concern Friday that her decisions, or private beliefs, could cause her to lose her job the following week. She ruled in favor of the eight plaintiff districts; I will post more documents on my “HB 2244” post and you can go to this link to see as well: http://www.oscn.net/dockets/GetCaseInformation.aspx?db=oklahoma&number=CV-2016-1249
Saying nice things about a judiciary that just decided a case in favor of my clients may seem a little gratuitous, however it was not a fully successful week. It had also been my pleasure early on to collaborate with the attorneys who represented the plaintiffs on behalf of the coalition Keeping Oklahoma’s Promises in litigation challenging the 2014 Legislature’s HB 2630 that places all new state workers into a defined contribution plan and phases out over time the defined benefit plan for state workers referred to as OPERS. The plaintiffs alleged that the legislature had ignored its own law, the Oklahoma Pension Legislation Actuarial Analysis Act (OPLAAA), that requires a two-year process and serious actuarial analysis before making such a significant change to an Oklahoma pension plan. The defendants maintained, and the Oklahoma Supreme Court agreed, that the Legislature, as a body, doesn’t have to follow its own laws. You can read for yourself here: http://www.oscn.net/dockets/GetCaseInformation.aspx?db=appellate&number=SD-114676&cmid=118391
Though obviously frustrating it is a fair decision and all the nice things I say above about Judge Parrish apply as well to our state supreme court. The decision does not say that moving state workers to a defined contribution system is a good thing, rather it, not so simply, says that it is the Legislature’s choice. For the reasons I point out in my August 24, 2016 Post “Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics” the Legislature made a bad choice. It’s not that moving workers to a defined contribution system is bad in and of itself, rather by moving them away from a collective/group plan that has lower costs and higher investment yields they have assured that Oklahoma’s taxpayers will get less bang for our bucks invested in state workers’ retirement which remains an important means of recruiting quality employees to do the important work we expect from our state government. The beneficiaries of the Legislature’s action are the local financial planners (some who are legislators) and Wall Street firms that will reap more fees and commissions from state workers who are now left to figure it all out on their own.
If the Legislature in 2014 had, in good faith and of its own volition, followed OPLAAA then it would have informed itself about the perils I discuss in “Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics” and perhaps it would have moved to a hybrid defined contribution plan that would retain the benefits to taxpayers and workers of being big and perpetual. But it did not and instead it followed the simplistic game plan handed to them by the limited thinkers at OCPA. See my first Post “Hello World” from June 20, 2016.
Cindy Kerr ID’d the photo.