Two controversial state contracts should not be renewed when they come up for review in late September and early October, according to a state legislator who has been critical of the contract expenditures.
Senator Larry Dickerson said he came to that conclusion after reviewing expense reports filed by Mary Myrick and her public relations firm Public Strategies. Myrick, a longtime political consultant, has come under fire in the past year for her handling of contract work related to Governor Keating's Marriage Initiative and his Safe and Drug Free Schools program.
The annual contracts total $400,000 and $300,000 respectively.
"Given the questionable activities that have been uncovered in both of those contracts, I don't think it's in the best interest of Oklahoma taxpayers to renew them. The state shouldn't throw good money after bad, especially when we have so many other pressing needs to meet," said Sen. Dickerson.
Myrick's work on the marriage initiative came under scrutiny in March when it was learned that she was billing the state for reading books, watching videos and building crowds for media events related to the project. Questions were raised again in April when it was revealed that Myrick was also being paid several hundred thousands dollars to stage one-day conferences for Governor Keating's Safe and Drug Free Schools program. For
example, Myrick earned $100,000 for staging a one-day event in Oklahoma City last year and was paid an additional $300,000 this year for organizing a one-day event in Tulsa and other smaller seminars. Her fees and conference expenses, such as a $175,000 speaking fee for entertainer Bill Cosby, were paid out of a federal grant that had originally been earmarked for community drug prevention programs.
"I'm sure the initiatives have worthy goals, but it just defies common sense to take money out of community drug prevention programs and spend it on political consultants and speaking fees for stars like Bill Cosby. When you hear about those kinds of expenditures, it's not difficult to understand why a lot of taxpayers are frustrated with government," said
At the direction of Health and Human Services Secretary Jerry Regier, Myrick was originally awarded the contracts on a "sole source" basis, meaning there was no competition for the job. The contracts were renewed the following year when no competing bids were filed.
When questions were first raised about the Myrick contracts earlier this year, Governor Keating promised a full review of them, but there is no indication that such a review has taken place. Sen. Dickerson said he would be interested in seeing the results of such a review if one was actually undertaken, but he doubts that any new information would change his mind.
"It would be very difficult to come up with an explanation that would justify the kind of frivolous expenditures that have been documented. I think the contracts with Ms. Myrick have been more of an embarrassment than any thing else. The sooner the state can get out of them and redirect the money to something more worthwhile, the better for Oklahoma taxpayers," the Poteau legislator said.
Both contracts are annual agreements that may be renewed for up to three years. The $400,000 marriage initiative contract, financed with federal welfare funds and administered by the Department of Human Services, is set to expire on October 9th. The $300,000 safe school contract, financed with federal drug prevention funds and administered by the State Department of Health, is scheduled to expire on September 30th.
Both agencies are under the direction of cabinet secretary Jerry Regier.
The Myrick contracts aren't the only executive branch contracts involving federal funds that are currently under scrutiny. In recent published reports, State Auditor Clifton Scott has raised concerns about the Governor's use of federal discretionary funds in the welfare-to-work program. According to those reports, an ongoing audit of the program has indicated that consultant fees were paid even though there was little evidence of work being performed. Because of the questionable payments, Scott said that Oklahoma might be forced to repay the funds to the federal government.