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December 29, 2010

DA’s office prepares for shake-up

New DA Steidley plans layoffs, procedure changes

CLAREMORE — Outgoing District Attorney Gene Haynes said his goodbyes this week as Janice Steidley vowed to begin sweeping changes in the office Monday, when she becomes the first new district attorney of Rogers, Mayes and Craig counties since 1986.

Speaking at Rogers County commissioners’ meeting Monday and a retirement ceremony Tuesday, Haynes thanked supporters and district attorney employees for what he called the best 24 years of his life.

He did not seek re-election after six consecutive terms.

In an interview with the Claremore Progress Monday, Steidley called for support from district attorney employees as she follows through with her campaign promise to shake up the office — an itinerary that includes a few layoffs and tighter supervision of investigators.

“That’s been one of the main problems; the office has been segregated,” she said. “Here’s the deal, you need to either make the decision that the election’s over and we’re going to work together and we’re all one unit, or you’re not going to be there.”

She said “a little downsizing” is unavoidable because the state has cut the office’s budget this year and plans to cut it again next year. She also hinted that there could be salary reductions or freezes, saying raises approved by Haynes are challenging in a tough economy.

Cutting personnel costs is part of a business-inspired plan to streamline the office, she said. She and her husband, Larry Steidley, own Claremore-based Steidley Law Firm.

“When I look at numbers and I look at how many people need to be in a particular division, I have to look at it as a business. Everyone pulls their weight or they’ve got to go,” she said. “It doesn’t matter how long they’ve been there.”

That doesn’t mean all employees are in danger of losing their jobs — just the “dead weight,” Steidley said.

Some employees have already decided to go. Workers had a deadline for submitting their resumes, and some — like Assistant District Attorney Barry Farbro — did not comply.

“I said from the beginning I’m going to get the office more efficient,” Steidley said. “For the most part the office has a good staff but I’m going to make it even better and I’m going to put efficiency into the office, which it certainly needs.”

More efficiency, in some cases, has meant creating new positions.

Steidley has hired John Cummings, retired assistant chief of Claremore police, as chief investigator in charge of coordinating investigations. She hopes that will improve the office’s ability to prosecute criminal offenders.

“Rarely have you heard about us being the first to get there and prosecute and we need to change that. We have investigators and we need to use them,” Steidley said.

Cummings, who retired in 2006 after 22 years with Claremore police, came highly recommended, Steidley said.

“I just think he’s going to be a phenomenal asset,” she said. “The DA’s office has an investigators’ team, but to my knowledge I have never known it to have an (investigator) supervisor.”

Former Tulsa County Assistant District Attorney David Iski may replace Farbro as commissioners’ special legal counsel. Steidley has hired Iski to work in the Rogers County office and brought in Delaware County Assistant District Attorney Bryce Lair, her challenger in the general election, to take over the Craig County office.

She rehired Chuck Ramsey as Mayes County office director, promoting him to first assistant district attorney to replace Ray Hasselman, who retired earlier this year.

Aiming to streamline the office, Steidley said she will assign one of them to meld the policies and procedures of the three counties in District 12, making it easier for workers to fill vacancies in the other counties.

“We’re going to get more unified. The way that it has been is that Mayes, Craig and even Rogers County are very segregated from one another,” she said. “If someone’s gone in another county whether its due to illness or vacation, someone else can go in there and it’s not going into a no man’s land where they don’t know how things are done up there.”

Steidley said she has already received emails and letters from residents concerned about ongoing litigation, and plans to make herself just as accessible while she’s in office.

“I’m really looking to be more hands-on with the community and I already feel that I’ve been doing that,” she said. “I’ve been waiting all this time and I really think things are going to go well.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to have all this time to be putting a lot of time into the office so I feel like I’m months ahead of many other newly elected DAs that just got elected in November.”

Steidley won her election when Lair, her Republican challenger, dropped out of the race in August.

“I think the first month’s going to be a whirlwind. The first week I just need to paddle,” Steidley said.

Haynes, who took office in July 1986, gave commissioners legal advice at their meeting for the last time Monday.

“This will be something I will miss. It’s been a pleasure,” he told commissioners.

District 2 Commissioner Mike Helm thanked him: “Gene, it’s truly been an honor working with you, and you and Barry have done a good job.”

Commissioners gave Haynes the Association of County Commissioners’ blue ribbon award this month. Commissioners of any county can bestow the award to acknowledge their district attorney for performing especially well as their legal counsel.

Haynes said he plans to operate a private practice from his home “and see where it goes.” 

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