Elliot Chambers resigns from Oklahoma Land Office amid allegations

The head of an obscure state agency managing a billion-dollar portfolio announced he would step down on August 3, just weeks after the media began reporting a possible conflict of interest with one of the agency investments.

Elliot Chambers has served as Secretary of the Land Bureau Commissioners since Gov. Kevin Stitt appointed him in July 2020. At a Land Bureau commission meeting on Thursday, he announced he had offered his resignation to Stitt.

“I pledged to serve the state in this capacity for two years when I accepted the appointment – August 3 marks that date,” Chambers said.

The commission manages certain state assets, including land and mining rights. According to its latest annual report, it has a market investment portfolio of $2.7 billion. Last year, the commission distributed $116 million to public schools and universities.

In his statement, Chambers did not respond to criticism he faced over a decision last year to hire Victorum Capital to manage a state investment, or spinoffs within his own agency. when members of his staff objected to the agreement.

As reported by the Tulsa World, Erin Morgan, an internal auditor for the commission, was told Chambers had an existing relationship with Victorum before recommending the state do business with the Oklahoma City-based investment management firm. . She was later fired after raising the issue with her boss.

Morgan’s termination was to be discussed at Thursday’s meeting, but committee members have been advised by their attorney not to go into executive session, but rather to ask the attorney individually any questions they may have. . Superintendent of Public Schools Joy Hofmeister was the only commissioner present to support going into executive session.

The relationship between Chambers and Victorum, the Tulsa World noted, was apparently never disclosed to the agency’s commissioners, a five-member panel that includes the governor, lieutenant governor, state auditor, superintendent of State and the Secretary of Agriculture.

Victorum managing partner James Roller could not immediately be reached for comment.

Victorum contract called into question at Thursday’s meeting

The state has paid Victorum tens of thousands of dollars in management fees over the past year.

At Thursday’s commission meeting, the four commissioners present balked at renewing Victorum’s contract, which was set to expire that day. The agency’s legal counsel said he was unsure what would happen to the money if the state severed its relationship with Victorum or if the contract included a contingency to expire without a vote.

Three of the commissioners, Stitt, Lieutenant Governor Matt Pinnell and State Auditor Cindy Byrd eventually agreed to renew the contract on a temporary basis for another 60 days. Hofmeister voted against renewing the deal.

Hofmeister, who switched political parties in October and is running against Stitt in the gubernatorial race as a Democrat, spoke to reporters after the meeting to address her concerns.

“There are simply questions that have not yet been answered regarding conflicts of interest, and I would like to have those answers and be fully informed before making a decision on this,” Hofmeister said.

Elliot Chambers, the latest Governor Kevin Stitt appointee to be criticized

Chambers is the latest Stitt appointee to step down amid significant public scrutiny. Others include:

  • Jerry Winchester: Served as director of the Oklahoma State Department of Tourism and Recreation until his resignation during the Swadley State Park restaurant scandal.
  • David Ostrow: Served as Secretary for Digital Transformation and Administration. He had been charged with criminal bribery of a state official, but those charges were dropped five months later. Ostrowe left state government later that year and has now asked a special prosecutor to investigate the grounds for his indictment, calling the charges politically motivated.
  • Gino DeMarco: Another tourism official who resigned recently. DeMarco came under scrutiny as the state’s “PPE czar” during the pandemic and served as Winchester’s deputy director in the tourism department while the Swadley deal was negotiated and approved. Most recently worked for the Oklahoma Health Care Authority.

Ryan Walters, the Education Secretary appointed by Stitt, has not resigned from his post, but continues to receive heavy criticism over the source of his salary and the oversight of a contract that allowed parents to use the funds from public schools for non-educational purposes during the pandemic.

Walters is currently running for state superintendent and is facing a runoff against April Grace in the Republican primary.

Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly listed the timeline of David Ostrowe’s resignation.

Writer Dale Denwalt covers Oklahoma business and economic news for The Oklahoman. Do you have a story idea for Dale? He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @denwalt. Support Dale’s work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today at subscribe.oklahoman.com.

Gregory M. Roy