I’ve been assigned to a special House committee that will investigate the potential misuse of taxpayer funds through a vendor agreement between the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department (OTRD) and Swadley’s Bar-B-Q, contracted to operate restaurants at Oklahoma state parks.
We begin our work in a public meeting scheduled for 11 a.m. Thursday, May 12, in Room 206 at the State Capitol.
The committee has subpoenaed Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency (LOFT) Director Mike Jackson and Office of Management and Enterprise Services Director Steven Harpe to provide testimony on the now-cancelled contract. We also are concerned with invoices for reimbursement that appear to be inflated.
The issue was revealed by a LOFT report released in March. Multiple criminal investigations were opened at that time, but House Speaker Charles McCall decided to form the special House Committee to investigate as well.
The committee is made up of 15 bipartisan House members who will examine the contract and vendor agreement as well as any other pertinent documentation. The purpose is to determine if abuse of tax dollars did occur, and if laws need to change to protect against any future abuse of state resources by our agencies.
We will not impede the work of law enforcement, but it is our duty to oversee the spending of tax dollars and to make sure our policies provide a safeguard against any fraud or misuse.
Since the LOFT report brought this matter to light, the governor has since canceled the state’s contract with Swadley’s and accepted the resignation of the director of OTRD. The Lt. Governor’s office has put out a request for proposal to get a new restaurant manager in our state parks.
Our parks are wonderful places to visit, and we want to make sure we have amenities available to attract both in- and out-of-state visitors, which is a terrific boost to our economy. But we must be wise stewards of taxpayer dollars.
The contract between OTRD and Swadley’s was shrouded in secrecy, and there are way too many questions left unanswered. It will the job of the committee to make sure we get to the truth and ensure we take any action necessary to remedy the situation.
I’m also pleased with the work LOFT did in finding this matter. I supported the legislation that created LOFT in 2019. The office was created for just such work as this – to ensure taxpayer dollars are spent appropriately.