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Did an improper “friendship” lead to the OSDH leadership exodus?

Through all the chaos and turmoil our state has experienced over the past few years, it's nice to know that some things – like The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) being in shambles – remains the same.

Late Friday afternoon, just minutes after I left town for a little weekend getaway, word hit the Oklahoma social media sphere that Dr. Lance Frye – the good old boy Kevin Stitt hand-picked to lead our state's awful response to the pandemic – had resigned.

In addition to that, it was announced that Jennifer Lepard – a well-known local politico who was the COO of OSDH – had also resigned to accept a job working for Stitt's political rival, and likely Democratic gubernatorial opponent – State School Superintendent Joy Hofmeister.

The news seemed to take the local media herd completely off-guard.

The quick knee-jerk analysis was the resignations had to do with the big news story about the OSDH allowing a non-binary person to change their birth certificate from M to X.

KOCO, The Oklahoman and even noted TLO super-fan Barbara Hoberock all made sure to mention it in their write-ups. Oklahoma Watch's Paul Monies went so far as to directly connect the two in his story lede:

Oklahoma’s top public health officer resigned Friday, a day after Gov. Kevin Stitt criticized “rogue activists” at the state Department of Health for settling a federal lawsuit to allow a non-binary gender designation on state-issued birth certificates.

Dr. Lance Frye said it was an honor to lead the agency during its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In his resignation letter, he said it was time for him to move on as the state moves into an endemic phase of the COVID-19 response and away from a pandemic response.

Although the OSDH quickly pushed back on the birth certificate fallout being the cause, it still seems like a pretty good excuse.

Stitt was very salty about the OSDH ruling, and since appeasing and pandering to his Derplahoman brethren on divisive social issues is more important than, say, making sure his state adequately responds to a pandemic, I can see how he could consider something as harmless as someone change a letter on a birth certificate to be a fireable offense.

That being said, the Ogle Mole Network is telling me a different story.

According to it, the real reason for the resignations has more of a tabloidy, "private lives of consenting adults who work with each other" feel to it.

Back in February of this year, I started hearing chatter via the Ogle Mole Network that Frye and Lepard – two members of Leadership Oklahoma Class 32 – had developed a very open and noticeable, shall we say, "bond." I briefly alluded to it here when we broke the news about Stitt's general counsel having an affair with a married lobbyist.

Over the past few months, the dispatches regarding Frye and Lepard's bond started to really pick up, with one high-level Ogle Mole claiming the duo was observed getting "handsy" at the Broadway 10 Chop House in Downtown OKC – the local after-hours hangout for lawmakers, lobbyists and political grifters.

According to some Moles, this special bond was a big contributing factor in Frye and Lepard leaving OSDH.

They're saying Frye and Lepard had been on the outs for a while, and once Stitt heard rumors of their special friendship, both of their fates in his administration were sealed. They just needed to find a good smokescreen to part ways, which was served on a silver platter last week when the "X Marks The Spot" birth certificate news hit.

Tabloidy stuff aside, a lot of Moles out there are sticking up for both Frye and Lepard.

They claim Stitt is the major source and cause of all the pandemic chaos and dysfunction within the organization. Breaking news, huh?

They paint Frye and Lepard as two loyal public servants who were simply trying to make the best of a bad situation and protect their state and its people from a micromanaging governor who would be fine with OSDH just pretending the pandemic didn't exist.

I'm not sure I 100% buy all of that, but it could explain why Lepard has already scored a new cushy state gig within the Department of Education.

From Barbara's article in The World:

[Lepard] has accepted a job as chief of health, wellness and community partnerships with the Oklahoma State Department of Education, according to the agency.

The post is a new position. She will be paid $120,000 under a federal grant, according to an agency spokesman. She will start in November.

Lepard could not immediately be reached for comment.

You have to admit, that's a pretty shrewd move by Hofmeister. Throwing a federally-funded lifeline to someone who worked for Stitt, and may have some dirt and inside information on him come this fall, is awesome and feisty.

That being said, it also appears that she and Lepard also go way back. Who knows? Maybe Stitt didn't care about the special "bond" between Frye and Lepard, and was simply paranoid Lepard maybe a mole for Hofmeister!

Then again, maybe Lepard is a spy for Stitt! She and the Governor seemed to get along well enough at the 2019 Speaker's Ball!

Or perhaps Leperd's spying for the Oklahoma Legislature?! Here she is with State. Reps Chris Kannady and Kevin Wallace at the same event. For what it's worth, they also attended Leadership Oklahoma 32.

I've watched enough Big Brother and Survivor over the years to know you should never trust someone who's a) in a showmance and B) member of multiple alliances. They're usually the ones who end up winning the game, so I guess we should go ahead and congratulate Jennifer Lepard for winning the 2022 Governors race!


Anyway, I guess I should wrap up this gossipy little article up! If you have any tips about anything going on in Oklahoma government, shoot us an email. Stay with The Lost Ogle. We'll keep you advised.

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