Claremore Daily Progress

September 22, 2012

Voters must turn to DA or Feds for county investigation

Randy Cowling
Editor

CLAREMORE —  

Justice delayed is justice denied or avoided.
With reports of alleged impropriety by Rogers County Commissioner Mike Helm and County Clerk-elect Robin Anderson regarding the use of FEMA funds and the solicitation and acceptance of vendor donation, residents ask, “what can be done?”
The cold, hard fact is residents have no recourse in seeking justice for alleged misuse of governmental authority. No recourse.
During the 53rd Legislative Session, state lawmakers passed a bill that exempts municipal and county elected officials from a formal recall process.
In other words, voters have no redress to turn out an elected official that has taken FEMA funds for one project and used them for another non-FEMA project. Voters cannot file a recall petition, get the necessary signatures of registered voters to have an election to oust a commissioner that might illegally dump rock and dirt into the Verdigris River despite Oklahoma’s DEQ saying he shouldn’t.
And voters cannot file the recall petition calling for the ousting of a county commissioner that decided not to take new bids for road striping by turning the project into a series of projects instead of having to put the project out for competitive bids, which is required by law.
Rogers County voters do not have the opportunity to legally recall a commissioner that directed his staff and personally solicited donations of gifts for the county from the same vendors who the commissioner has ongoing contracts, which the elected official took a solemn oath to not take anything as a gift.
No — Rogers County voters cannot exercise their right to legally recall any elected official, who may have violated the law and misused their position.  Voters no longer have that right, which was taken away by the state legislature.
Unfortunately, voters have only two paths which could be pursued to bring make an elected official be confronted with such charges in a formal forum.
Since the alleged misuse of FEMA funds involves a federal agency, only an investigation by the U. S. Department of Justice could be brought to determine the extent of misuse. A federal prosecutor could prompt an investigation. It is highly unusual for the average citizen to urge a federal prosecutor to take on such an investigation. Misuse of up to $14 million might peak a prosecutor’s interest.
On a more local level, voters could only hope that a multi-county grand jury be formed to investigate possible kickbacks, double-dipping of federal funds, using county funds designated for roads and bridges for other uses and avoiding state required bidding system to benefit one vendor.
Who can call for a multi-county grand jury?  Is it the District Attorney for Rogers, Mayes and Craig counties?  The DA is considered the chief law enforcement officer for the county. It is the DA that has the responsibility to bring elected officials  to account for their alleged illegal deeds.
It may sound like the list of allegations are harmless. It may sound like the list of allegations are the price of doing business by a county official. It may even sound like ignoring a State Auditor’s report of such misuse of funds is normal.
It is not. Voters elect representatives who they believe will protect and serve. When elected officials take the oath of office, it should matter.
State Statute 74 Chapter 62, outlines that elected officials cannot take a gift that would influence an official act, fraud or official duty. When county officials act in a way that gives the hint of violating the statute, action should be taken to remove them from office.
Without the ability to formally recall a county commissioner, voters must rely on the DA to represent them and take action.
Without the DA’s taking action, justice will be denied and voters will have no trust in the very officials they elect.
Voters now call on a federal prosecutor and the local DA to make sure justice is brought and truth and honesty are returned to the county.
Randy Cowling is editor of the Claremore Daily Progress.