The acting secretary of the Commissioners of the Land Office resigned earlier this month, after just nine months in the job.
Brandt Vawter was appointed to the position by Gov. Kevin Stitt and confirmed by the land commission’s board in June. Vawter started July 1.
Vawter’s appointment was called into question after Oklahoma Watch reported in September he lacked the advanced degree required under state law and his company had been involved in several legal disputes over oil and gas leasing.
At the time, the governor’s office stood by Vawter and said it would ask lawmakers to change the law regarding qualifications for the position. Rep. Tom Gann, R-Inola, filed House Bill 3008 to make that happen. The bill passed out of committee but did not make it to a vote on the House floor.
Vawter’s resignation was first reported by NonDoc on Monday evening. Vawter’s resignation letter didn’t explain why he was resigning.
“I am grateful to have been able to serve the State of Oklahoma these last 9 months,” Vawter wrote in the letter. “I offer my best wishes to the continued success of the CLO. If there is anything I can do to assist with the transition, please let me know.”
Vawter formerly worked as a landman at Chesapeake Energy Corp. and XTO Energy Inc. before forming his own oil and gas development company, Monticello Investments LLC, with his wife, Amber.
In December, House Minority Leader Emily Virgin, D-Norman, asked Attorney General Mike Hunter for a legal opinion on Vawter’s appointment as acting secretary of the Land Office. She wanted to know if an acting secretary who didn’t meet the statutory qualifications for the job could still sign contracts and leases. Virgin also wanted to know how long an acting secretary could serve and which legal authority could be used to remove a public official that doesn’t meet the qualifications for the job.
Hunter’s spokesman, Alex Gerszewski, said Tuesday the attorney general’s response to the letter was pending. Gerszewski didn’t have a timeline on when the opinion might be issued.
Stitt spokesman Charlie Hannema said the governor thanked Vawter for his service and wished him well on future endeavors.
“We are actively working to identify his replacement and will not comment on potential candidates to protect the integrity of the search process,” Hannema said in an email.
Under the state constitution, the Commissioners of the Land Office is composed of a five-member board, which includes the governor, lieutenant governor, state superintendent of education, state auditor and inspector and secretary of agriculture. The commission’s secretary is appointed by the governor.
The Land Office manages a $2.4 billion portfolio of oil and gas assets, agricultural land and commercial property to benefit Oklahoma education.