FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
OJA Board Names Rachel Holt as Interim Executive Director
OKLAHOMA CITY, MARCH 5, 2020—The Oklahoma Board of Juvenile Affairs today named Rachel Canuso Holt as interim executive director of the Office of Juvenile Affairs (OJA).
Holt is the chief operating officer (COO) and senior general counsel for OJA. Her appointment takes effect Saturday. OJA Executive Director Steven Buck, who also serves as state secretary of human services and early childhood initiatives, announced last month his resignations from both posts to take a job leading an association representing long-term care facilities. His resignation is effective tomorrow.
OJA board members met in a special meeting and voted 6-0 to name Holt as the agency’s interim executive director. Under House Bill 2479, which took effect last year, the governor has the authority to hire the agency's executive director with Senate confirmation; previously, the OJA board hired the agency’s executive director. However, the measure also states that “the board may designate an interim or acting Executive Director who is authorized to exercise such powers and duties until a permanent Executive Director is employed.”
“Secretary Buck has been a tremendous leader throughout his tenure, and we want to ensure we can continue to build on the momentum and vision at OJA,” said Governor Kevin Stitt. “The board’s selection of Rachel Holt as interim director is a wise decision. Rachel has been a strong leader and dedicated team member as chief of operations at OJA, and I have full faith in her ability to ensure continuity of services and provide stability for the agency during this leadership change.”
“Rachel is a leading authority on juvenile law in Oklahoma and knows intimately the workings of OJA,” said board Chair Karen Youngblood, who has served on the board since 2017. “Rachel worked closely with Director Buck in guiding our agency toward focusing more on rehabilitation and treatment of the youth in our care, which enhances public safety by our youth having a better chance of success when they return to their local communities. We are pleased to have her step into the important role of interim director and look forward to continued progress with her leading our OJA team.”
“I have greatly enjoyed working alongside Rachel while serving on the Office of Juvenile Affairs board, and I have come to appreciate her marked dedication and unparalleled concern for the youth of our state,” said OJA board member Dr. Amy Emerson. “It is without hesitation that I support her in the role of interim executive director, and I look forward to continuing to pursue our mission of helping each young person of our state achieve their full potential together.”
Holt has been OJA’s COO and senior general counsel since December 2017. Before that, she was an assistant attorney general assigned as OJA’s general counsel and prior to that she served as OJA’s deputy general counsel.
“I am humbled and honored by the board’s decision,” said Holt. “I look forward to continuing the work that the agency and I have been doing with the challenge from Director Buck to be bold.”
Buck applauded the board’s decision to tap Holt to head OJA.
“Rachel has the knowledge and energy to move the agency and state forward in how we treat our at-risk youth by engaging as many as we can early so that we can continue to make progress in the battle against juvenile crime,” he said. “Rachel is uniquely qualified for this role, combining her experience as a prosecutor with her convictions that prevention and early interventions work, and that young people entangled in the justice system deserve hope and rehabilitation. She has been a trusted adviser to me, and has provided counsel with professionalism and candor during my tenure at OJA. I am excited to see OJA continue its progress and reformation with her leadership and passion for service.”
Holt, a native of Philadelphia, graduated cum laude from George Washington University with a major in criminal justice and a minor in women’s studies. After graduation she worked as a victim advocate for victims of domestic violence in the Washington D.C. court system and as a legal assistant for a small corporate law firm. In 2004, she and her husband David, a native of Oklahoma City, moved to Oklahoma and she began her studies at the University of Oklahoma College of Law. Upon graduation from law school, she was named an Oklahoma County assistant district attorney, where she served in the juvenile division prosecuting juvenile delinquents and youthful offenders, and assisting with deprived matters. She and David, who is the mayor of Oklahoma City, have two children, George and Maggie. She is a member of the Junior League of Oklahoma City and a board member for the Downtown Exchange Club of Oklahoma City.
Rachel Canuso Holt
For additional information, contact:
Michael McNutt / Communications Director
at (405) 530-2860 (office) or (405) 249-6072 (cell)
Paula Christiansen / Public Information Officer
at (405) 530-2814 (office) or (405) 620-6483 (cell)