The Oklahoma Veterans Commission voted Friday to terminate the employment of Joel Kintsel, the embattled executive director of the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs.
The decision by the commission comes on the heels of nine months of infighting between Kintsel, the commission and the Governor’s office. Kintsel has refused to attend commission meetings in 2023, claiming three commission members are illegitimately appointed. Kintsel challenged Gov. Kevin Stitt in the 2022 Republican Primary, receiving 14.3% of the vote.
“With no authority other than his own opinion, the agency director we’ve been tasked with overseeing has shut us out of the agency and oversight, denied our authority and defiantly obstructed our work at every turn. He has publicly exhibited absolute insubordination,” said the Chairman of the veteran’s commission Robert Allen.
When reached for comment, Kintsel said the group that fired him is “not the commission,” and he would have a more thorough statement later in the day.
According to state statute, the governor appoints all nine members of the Veterans Commission, with six seats representing specific groups. The statute requires each group to send the governor a list of five potential nominees for its seat on the commission.
Over the past year, at least three of Stitt’s appointees were not selected from the organizations’ lists. Instead, Stitt appointed members of the organizations who had not officially been recommended. The three members in question were Chairman Robert Allen from the Military Order of the Purple Heart, Ted Perry of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and Daniel Orr of the Disabled Veterans of America. Allen’s legitimacy is no longer questioned after the governor re-appointed him to an at-large spot.
At a press conference Friday, Stitt said after meeting with legislators, he decided to ask any commissioner being challenged to “abstain from any vote.” Perry voted, while Orr was absent and did not vote.
Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond said in a February statement he agrees with Kintsel that Stitt has “not followed the lawfully ascribed process” when appointing commissioners but also said it is “equally unfortunate that the executive director of the state Department of Veterans Affairs is acting irresponsibly and not in the best interests of veterans.”
Over their past three meetings, the Veterans Commission has laid the groundwork to terminate Kintsel’s employment. They saw presentations of how the agency fumbled the construction of the Oklahoma Veterans Home in Sallisaw, costing the state an additional $21 million. They also heard about a potential data security risk created by someone within the agency. Kintsel has disputed these issues are his fault.
“We’ve got the original architect that was grossly negligent and did not provide complete architectural plans for the project,” Kintsel said Feb. 9. “Of course, it took a while for that to come to light. So we have retained a law firm here in Oklahoma City that is going to sue them and hopefully recover damages for the state of Oklahoma.”
Kintsel has also refused to let the commissioners meet at their usual meeting spot inside the agency headquarters and has refused to post meeting agendas online.
The Frontier and NonDoc previously reported how agency employees and state Legislators had tired of the fighting between Kintsel and the commission.
“As chairman of this committee, my only job is to ensure that we are doing the best to take care of our veterans,” Rep. Josh West, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans and Military Affairs, emailed Kintsel, ODVA Deputy Director Sarah Lane, and vice chair of the commission Sid Ellington. “Fix your shit and quit sending me your back-and-forth emails. I’m a pretty easy guy to get along with, but I have no use for this petty, childish bullshit. If my language offends you, then I’m sorry, but I’m going to call it as I see it.”
The commission also voted to terminate the employment of Deputy Director Sarah Lane.
“Her level of outright insubordination may be more egregious than her boss’,” Allen said.
The commission hired former Under Secretary of the Navy Admiral Greg Slavonic as interim director of the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs. Slavonic also previously served as chief of staff to Sen. James Lankford.