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Oklahoma Corporation Commissioners at odds on best response to State Auditor's condemnation of 'no-bid' contracts

Oklahoma Corporation Commission Chairman Todd Hiett, Vice-Chair Kim David and Commissioner Bob Anthony
Oklahoma Corporation Commission
Oklahoma Corporation Commission Chairman Todd Hiett, Vice-Chair Kim David and Commissioner Bob Anthony

Byrd’s office identified large-scale mismanagement of taxpayer money last month under the Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES).

Some of the mismanaged funds were part of “rolling solicitation” contracts, which OMES introduced in 2019. Under one of these contracts, a company would no longer be required to participate in a competitive bidding process to work with the state. Competitive bidding ensures contract work is the most cost-effective use of taxpayer dollars.

The state’s three Corporation Commissioners were divided on how their agency should respond to Byrd’s audit.

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC) was not included in the audit, because it didn’t receive enough federal funds to meet the monetary threshold, according to an agency spokesperson. But as a state agency, the OCC operates within OMES’s rules.

Ahead of Tuesday’s Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC) meeting, Commissioner Bob Anthony publicized a motion to “adopt the State Auditor’s position” on no-bid contracts in order to “ensure OCC contracting compliance.”

At the meeting, OCC Director Brandy Wreath said he took issue with the implications of Anthony’s motion.

“We did not go to the statewide no-bid contract because I agree with [State Auditor Cindy] Byrd,” Wreath said. “Many areas of the state are becoming no-bid. OCC is not.[...] To say that we need to straighten out OCC is incorrect. We're not crooked.”

Wreath said despite not needing to be under OMES’s rules for statewide contracts, OCC continued to have vendors competitively bid for work agreements. A spokesperson for the Oklahoma Corporation Commission confirmed the agency had never entered a no-bid work agreement.

According to Anthony’s motion, the OCC has worked with eight vendors who have “statewide contracts” with OMES. Under OMES’s “rolling solicitation” rules, those vendors didn’t need to competitively bid their services. But Wreath said OCC was already under work agreements with those vendors before OMES gave them statewide contracts.

“I think it's important to know that the contracts I have signed to continue with these vendors were competitively bid when the projects started,” said OCC Director Brandy Wreath at yesterday’s commission meeting.

Anthony’s two fellow commissioners also disagreed with the implication that OCC needed to change their policies or procedures.

“I want to make sure whatever motion we put forward, that we as an agency are recognizing what the auditor is saying with the problems that OMES is having with these contracts,” said Commissioner Kim David. “But I also want to make sure that we recognize that we as an agency have gone above and beyond to protect this agency.”

Wreath said he met with the State Auditor’s Office and received no recommendations of change for the OCC’s practices. And Commission Todd Hiett said it wasn’t OCC’s place to change the no-bid rules condemned in the State Auditor’s report.

“We have to wait for this audit process to work itself out and OMES to make the appropriate changes,” said Commissioner Todd Hiett. “We can't be the ones to jump ahead of everyone else. We have to work within the construct that OMES has.”

Hiett put forth a new motion that expressed support for the auditor’s findings but also commended the OCC’s leadership and financial division for “demonstrating the highest integrity by adhering to the letter of the law governing the expenditure of public funds, both federal and state.”

Hiett’s motion passed, although Anthony abstained from voting. Later that day, he released a statement condemning what he called an “endorsement” of OMES’s no-bid model.

Copyright 2024 KOSU

Graycen Wheeler is a reporter covering water issues at KOSU.