A special House committee will investigate the Stitt administration's restaurant deal
Oklahoma Speaker of the House Charles McCall on Thursday launched a special committee to investigate the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department’s dealings with Swadley’s Foggy Bottom Kitchen.
McCall named Rep. Ryan Martinez, R-Edmond to lead the special House committee, which will have the power to subpoena witnesses and documents.
“We have zero tolerance for abuse of tax dollars,” said McCall, R-Atoka. “Law enforcement’s job is determining if laws were broken. This committee’s job is determining if laws need to change to protect against future abuses of resources by state agencies.”
On Wednesday, Fox 25 reported Foggy Bottom owner Brent Swadley name-dropped Gov. Kevin Stitt in 2020 to an Oklahoma State Fire Marshal agent, saying: “this is bigger than you, and there are more politics at play here than you could ever understand… Governor Stitt reached out to me to put my restaurants in his state parks.”
Martinez said he hasn’t ruled out calling Stitt to speak in front of the committee.
“We’re gonna go where the evidence leads us,” he said. “And wherever the evidence leads us, if it leads us (to the Governor) then we’re more than happy to have those questions answered,” He said. “So like I said, we’re going to start digging into it and if it leads us down that path, we will have that conversation.”
The committee comes after The Frontier reported additional fees and inflated prices for equipment that Foggy Bottom billed to the Tourism Department.
Martinez was one of the most vocal members during a Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency hearing in March, pressing Tourism Department Executive Director Jerry Winchester about the “sweetheart deal” that incentivized Swadley’s to lose money.
“We’re going to get to the bottom of how this money moved, who signed contracts, why it happened, where the oversight was, and not only find out who did it but also hold them accountable, and make sure it never happens again,” he said.
Martinez said he is “pretty surprised” Winchester is still with the agency after details of the contract have come to light, but said it’s out of his purview to hire or fire state officials and that it is “up to the executive branch.”
As Stitt’s appointee, Winchester remains in charge of the Tourism Department. Stitt hinted earlier this monththat he believes scrutiny on the Foggy Bottom deal is politically motivated.
“Any suggestion that this is politically motivated is just wrong,” Martinez said. “The politics of this I don’t really care about. I care about taxpayers and I care about their money.”
On Monday, after the Tourism Department canceled the Foggy Bottom contract, Stitt said he “welcomes the Legislature joining me to protect the taxpayers and shine a light on any kind of corruption or bad actors involved in state government.”
When approached for comment at the Capitol on Thursday, Stitt said “I’m not talking to anyone right now. ”
The last time the state House created a special committee was to investigate the finances of the Oklahoma State Department of Health in 2017. Following the investigation over 200 people lost their jobs.
The Frontier is a nonprofit newsroom that produces fearless journalism with impact in Oklahoma. Read more at www.readfrontier.org.