Almost one year ago, Senator Clark Jolley asked me to assist him in bringing an end to what appeared to be a practice of legalized corruption. Having worked with Jolley on numerous modernization and efficiency measures, I have learned to pay close attention to his concerns. He frequently proposes cost saving and efficiency reforms, and his proposals are taken very seriously by the Legislature. Jolley had received reports from whistleblowers who exposed extremely disturbing abuses and he wanted to work on legislation to stop the practice.
Jolley’s request started an intense one-year saga to remedy one of the worst abuses of the taxpayer dollar that I have seen. That saga continues to this day.
Let me tell you about this horrific abuse known as sole-source specing.
Voters within a school district or municipality approve a massive bond issue calling for the construction of new buildings without realizing they have just contributed to legalized corruption. Flush with cash, the benefiting governing board hires design professionals to specify which materials are to be used in the new project.
The designers present the governing board with grandiose plans that highlight the inclusion of expensive features. It’s all too easy for gullible board members to approve these plans because they are after all spending other peoples’ money. These designers then draw the specifications so tightly that only one supplier can provide the expensive features. In this way, competition is eliminated and the supplier can charge exponentially more than would otherwise be paid because the competitive bidding process has been eliminated. In some cases, the project designer may actually allow the sales engineer for a product manufacturer to write the specification so that only that one product qualifies.
Sole-source specing has long-term implications. Not only do sole speced items cost more in the first place, but the cost can re-occur. For example, a few years ago, the state issued bonds to build a costly new data center. The data center features what appear to be expensive, sole-source speced lighting fixtures which create a futuristic ambiance in the hallways.
Now those lights are going out and need replacing. However, replacing the lights will cost many thousands of dollars and state officials will be forced to simply allow the lights to die. The taxpayers are still on the hook for the bonds and debt interest that paid for the expensive and soon to be non-functioning lights. Payments will continue to be made on the bonds even though the lights will soon be no longer functional.
After engaging in multiple interviews with construction professionals, I have come to the conclusion that sole-source specing appears to be prevalent within Oklahoma government construction contracting. This really hit home as I realized that one of the local House District 31 school districts recently issued a large number of bonds and was participating in sole-source specing. This wasteful and corrupt practice simply had to be stopped.
I was committed to doing whatever I can to assist Senator Jolley in bringing this to an end. On February 4, 2013, Senator Jolley filed Senate Bill 630 and on February 5, I signed on as the House author of the bill. This bill, if approved, was designed to stop much of the sole specing abuse.
In next week’s article I will describe the effort to win approval for this legislation and the behind-the-scenes story of how special interests are still attempting to preserve the abuse of sole-source specing.
While Gov. Mary Fallin and legislative leaders waited for the completion of an independent study on state employee pay, House Speaker T.W. Shannon approved more than a quarter of a million dollars in annual pay increases for his staff.
Figures released by House officials on Monday show about half of the 117 full-time House employees received raises totaling more than $280,000. The pay hikes for 52 House employees ranged from about 2 percent for a housekeeper to more than 30 percent for three staff attorneys. The salary figures initially were requested by the Tulsa World.
Pay hikes for most state workers have been delayed while a $200,000 study was being conducted on employee compensation.
Shannon spokesman Joe Griffin said the increases resulted from a separate House study.
In what members of the Legislature describe as a “defensive effort,” a measure is being filed today to defend the traditional holiday seasons of Christmas and Hanukkah.
Reps. Bob Cleveland, R-Slaughterville, and Ken Walker, R-Tulsa, are filing a bill for the upcoming session. House Bill 2317 would call for more protections to go into place regarding Christmas and how it is celebrated in schools.
Called the “Merry Christmas” bill, the measure would allow for schools to celebrate Christmas and use religious-based imagery such as nativity scenes alongside other displays such as Christmas trees. It would also allow school faculty and staff to use traditional greetings such as “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Hanukkah” without fear of reprisal.
“The purpose of this Oklahoma Merry Christmas bill is to put a beacon of light, a safe harbor if you will, in the pages of the statutes so that our children, our parents and our teachers can run to a lighthouse whose light shines boldly from the pages of our state’s law books,” Walker said. “It will declare that we have a right to express our core beliefs and celebrate winter traditions without fear of lawsuit, retribution or reprisal.”
Walker said there is now a website up so Oklahomans can learn more about the measure.
“We have created a website called MerryChristmasBillOK.com and encourage you to share your own stories, read what the Supreme Court has to say about your religious liberties and follow the progress of this bill,” Walker said. “We also have created ‘Oklahoma Merry Christmas Bill’ on Facebook.”
Walker said he was convinced to file this legislation after speaking with Kathy LaFortune, the wife of former Tulsa Mayor Bill LaFortune, who said she wants to prevent public schools from being bullied away from celebrating the religious holidays.
“I want our public schools to be able to display Christmas decorations and other significant icons side by side without fear of lawsuits,” LaFortune said. “Teachers should have the freedom to discuss the cultural and historic meanings behind these symbols with our children.”
Cleveland said he wants to make sure the meaning of Christmas is kept intact.
“Christmas is the time that our founding fathers came here to get away from persecution,” Cleveland said. “We have the right to freedom and the right to freedom of speech. Simply because we’re in the school house we do not lose that right.”
The measure will be filed today and considered in the upcoming Legislative session set to begin in February. It mirrors that of Texas’ House Bill 308 which was signed into law in that state in June. That bill, authored by Texas state Rep. Dwayne Bohac, is being celebrated this week.
Oklahoma Democratic Party
A community leader and advocate for Latino Americans announced today that she is running for the Oklahoma House of Representatives in House District 89.
Rep. Jason Murphey
This year I have witnessed the quickest deployment and implementation of a major state governmental process that I have ever seen. I think this success provides the ideal state counterpart example to the shortcomings demonstrated by the federal HealthCare.gov website.
In years past, hundreds of thousands of electronic government records containing the personal data of Oklahoma taxpayers were lost or stolen. Following these failures, state legislators advanced a plan whereby the information technology (IT) operations of Oklahoma’s many state government agencies would be consolidated. There were two primary reasons given for the consolidation; the first was cost savings and the second was security. We felt that if the resources of the agencies were combined, the capabilities would be greatly improved. It simply didn’t make sense for each agency to segregate and silo resources into security operations that obviously were not working.
Earlier this year, the consolidated IT operation launched its security operation center (SOC). Amazingly, the SOC’s deployment occurred just two months after its specifics were envisioned.
State government networks are under frequent attack from foreign and domestic enemies who would seek to steal government information. In the past, security resources were divided among the countless state agencies. There was likely very little real time monitoring, and by the time an intrusion was detected, any compromised data would have been long gone. In fact, the intrusion may not have ever been detected because IT officials would have been forced to pick and choose from thousands of interactions just to figure out what to audit.
Now all of this has changed. Oklahoma’s new consolidated IT operation developed a minimal cost in-house solution which integrates security reporting capabilities from multiple softwares. This allows SOC to provide 24-7 real time monitoring. When a significant intrusion attempt occurs, an alarm signals to warn the monitoring officials. The details of the intrusion appear on big screens within the SOC for all to see. In the past, it might have been days before IT officials would have seen the intrusion attempt. Now they see it as it happens.
This new operation appears to be unlike any other in the nation. Oklahoma IT employees have now become a leading identifier of those parties who are attacking government systems. This valuable intelligence is distributed nationwide so that other government officials can quickly identify attacks on their systems. This has significant national security implications because American government networks are constantly under attack from foreign nations.
There are numerous other benefits to this monitoring. For example, these systems track use of state government computers and their online interactions. They quickly aggregate data like the sites that are visited by government employees. This allows IT employees to notice if state computers have been compromised. Interestingly, the aggregated stats also show that many of the most utilized web-based applications appear not to be work-related and have not escaped the notice of legislators. This could have helpful implications as we strive for efficiencies within state agencies. More on that later.
I have been accustomed to the painstakingly slow process by which new government processes are deployed. The SOC deployment is an amazing exception to this rule. I believe it represents an excellent example of the changing culture brought about by IT consolidation and the state officials who are charged with making it happen. It hasn’t always been easy, but a new culture of effectiveness and efficiency is starting to produce tangible results.
Former state Sen. Debbe Leftwich was sentenced Thursday to one year on probation on a political bribery charge.
Under a deal with prosecutors, she let an Oklahoma County judge find her guilty of a felony charge of soliciting and/or accepting a bribe to withdraw as a candidate for political office.
Leftwich, 62, of Oklahoma City, did not plead guilty herself.
The deal allows her to avoid a trial which could have resulted in her going to prison for up to two years. Her jury trial had been scheduled to begin next week.
Leftwich was accused of dropping her re-election campaign in 2010 after she was offered an $80,000-a-year job at the state medical examiner’s office.
Her co-defendant, former state Rep. Randy Terrill, was convicted at a trial in October of offering a bribe to withdraw. Jurors chose a punishment of one year in state prison and a $5,000 fine.
Prosecutors alleged Terrill, a Republican, offered Leftwich, a Democrat, the job to help his friend, Rep. Mike Christian.
Christian, R-Oklahoma City, had planned in 2010 to run for Leftwich’s seat, but ran for re-election to his House seat instead after he, Terrill and Leftwich came under investigation.
Christian was not charged.
In 2010, Terrill was chairman of a House appropriations subcommittee that oversaw the medical examiner’s office.
Terrill had the language creating the new position — a transition coordinator — inserted into a reform bill nine days before the legislative session ended, according to testimony at his trial. Leftwich announced she was not running for re-election after the bill passed.
No one got the transition coordinator job because then-Gov. Brad Henry vetoed the reform bill after Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater announced he was investigating how the job was created.
Former House Speaker and Corporation Commissioner Rex Privett has died.
Memorial services will be held at McFarland Methodist Church in Norman on Wednesday, December 11 at 10:00 a.m.
Privett served also as executive director of the Oklahoma Public Employees Retirement System and served one term as a corporation commissioner.
Privett represented Pawnee County in the House from 1957-72, serving as speaker the last six years.
After the 1972 session, he won election to the Corporation Commission, and he served one six-year term.
After leaving the commission, Privett was appointed by Governor George Nigh as state gasohol coordinator.
Speaker T.W. Shannon issued the following statement today in response to the passing of Privett, who served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1967 to 1972:
“I was saddened to learn of the passing of former Speaker Privett,” said Shannon, R-Lawton.
“I had the privilege of meeting him at last year’s Speaker’s Ball, and I was humbled by his kindness and his commitment to serving the people of Oklahoma. Our state is better for the service of men and women like Speaker Privett, and I hope his contributions to our state will be highlighted for our citizens during the coming days as he is honored in passing. My prayers are with his family during this difficult time.”
The State Chamber of Oklahoma has given five awards to legislators honoring their commitment to Oklahoma’s economy. The awards were presented during the State Chamber’s annual Public Affairs Forum.
Each year, the State Chamber of Oklahoma selects at least one lawmaker in each chamber who went above and beyond the call of duty to take a stand for Oklahoma business. They were not only instrumental in advancing pro-growth legislation; they fought to protect Oklahoma’s job creators from burdensome and unnecessary regulations to ensure our state’s competitive future.
This year four legislators will receive the State Chamber of Oklahoma’s Guardian of Free Enterprise Award.
On the House side, Speaker T.W. Shannon and Representative Leslie Osborn received awards while in the Senate, President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman and Senator Anthony Sykes were honored. They all played a significant role in the last legislative session, and during the special session, on key issues important to the business community including the workers’ compensation reform legislation.
“We are proud to recognize these legislators’ outstanding efforts and show our sincere appreciation for their hard work with this award,” said Fred Morgan, president and CEO of the State Chamber. “We are looking forward to working with these distinguished legislators and their pro-business colleagues in the House and Senate as we work to continue to improve Oklahoma’s business climate in 2014.”
The last award presented was the Rising Star Award, which recognizes a freshman legislator during his or her first session of service who plays a significant role in advancing pro-growth legislation and policies at the State Capitol. This year’s award recipient is Representative Jon Echols.
“The freshman legislator that is receiving this award was actively engaged in the drafting and improvement of the workers’ compensation reform legislation, Senate Bill 1062. He not only presented the bill before the House Judiciary Committee, he helped guide the bill through House floor consideration,” said Gwendolyn Caldwell, senior vice president of Government Affairs for the State Chamber. “Thanks to his diligent work, Senate Bill 1062 is now law, and the State Chamber is pleased to present Rep. Jon Echols with the 2013 Rising Star award.”