OKLAHOMA CITY — The state Veterans Commission on Thursday took no action on the employment of Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs Executive Director Joel Kintsel, who mounted an unsuccessful political campaign to unseat Gov. Kevin Stitt.
The nine-member board, all Stitt-appointees, met for more than an hour behind closed doors to discuss “the employee performance for Joel Kintsel related to the current workplace environment.”
Stitt has been replacing members of the panel who voted to give Kintsel a leave of absence from the agency to run against him in the Republican gubernatorial primary. Stitt won the primary.
Kintsel said earlier this week that he thought the board would fire him due his decision to run and based on Stitt’s recent changes to the board’s membership.
“I am optimistic about how everybody is coming together,” Kintsel said after the meeting. “As veterans, we look out for each other.”
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Carly Atchison, Stitt’s communications director, attended the meeting and had no comment afterward when asked about Kintsel’s continued employment.
John Nash, Stitt’s Cabinet secretary of military and veterans affairs, also attended most of the meeting.
Kintsel recently clashed with Nash and with Stitt’s office over an executive order the governor issued concerning purchases.
The order required that state agency nonemergency purchases of $25,000 or more be approved by the relevant Cabinet secretary.
Kintsel said Nash had not signed off on some necessary purchases. Kintsel eventually said he determined that the executive order was illegal and processed the payments without Nash’s signature.
Atchison has said previously that the purchases would qualify as emergency purchases that did not require the secretary’s approval.
New Commissioner Scott Sweeney questioned Kintsel about the purchases, asking him why he didn’t try harder to meet with Nash to get his signature if the purchases were so important.
“I am not going to chase the secretary all over town trying to get his signature,” Kintsel said, adding that Nash’s decision not to sign off on the purchases was based on politics. Nash was sent by Stitt to create a “firestorm,” Kintsel said.
The agency had been operating like a Swiss watch until Nash showed up, Kintsel said.
Three lawmakers involved in veterans affairs attended the board’s closed-door executive session.
“I think it was a good decision,” said Rep. Josh West, R-Grove, a veteran. “I think Joel has done a great job.”
West said he was hearing the rumors that Kintsel might be fired. He woke up at 3 a.m., drove to Oklahoma City and attended the meeting, he said.
West said he has seen the work Kintsel has done.
“I will go to bat for what Joel has done,” he said. “I think the commissioners were able to use those of us that showed up not as a character witness, but just ask us questions. I think it is important for legislators to show up at these types of meetings.”
Kintsel has led the agency for about three years.