Parole Board Declines Director's Request for Leave to Ease Friction with Member

Jul 13, 2020

Credit Serge Melki

The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board on Monday voted against letting its executive director take leave in a bid to help settle tensions between him and a board member who threatened him with a grand jury investigation.

The vote was 2–2, but the absence of Chair Robert Gilliland went down as a third vote against Executive Director Steven Bickley’s request for a roughly six-week leave.

Last month, Bickley told the board in an email it was time to start developing a policy hearing commutation applications from death-row inmates. Bickley cited legal guidance from Gov. Kevin Stitt's general counsel they could take them up, which was confirmed by the agency’s attorney and Gilliland.

The Frontier reported McCall disputed that assertion and said in emails he would request to appear before the multicounty grand jury with proof of multiple, unspecified crimes unless Bickley sought an opinion from the attorney general’s office. Bickley did, and it concurred with his position.

McCall said Monday he is also privy to issues agency staff have with Bickley, though he has not raised those to the board yet because he didn't want to violate their confidence.

"I think he’s got private issues going on. I think he’s got a nonprofit that he spends too much time working on. I don’t think he’s provided the leadership or the assistance to staff, and I’ve just had all of it I’m going to take," McCall said.

In considering Bickley’s request for extended leave on Monday, McCall said agency staff had come to him months earlier with those concerns. Board member Adam Luck said any allegations against Bickley must be brought to the board’s attention.

"It’s not fair for us to sit in the dark and have everything that’s happened on the past couple of months because one board member knows something that the other four of us don’t," Luck said.

In an emailed statement, Bickley said under his tenure, the pardon and parole board has run under budget, heard twice as many cases, and been recognized at the state and national levels. He also said he didn't know what nonprofit McCall was referring to, saying his work at the pardon and parole board takes up 50 to 60 hours a week.

The pardon and parole board’s debate on death-row commutations was reportedly sparked by an application by Julius Jones, a Black man convicted of murdering a white Edmond businessman and sentenced to death in 2002. He has maintained his innocence and applied for a commutation in late 2019.