Claremore Daily Progress

December 12, 2012

Public comments prompt outburst

Salesha Wilken
Staff Reporter

CLAREMORE — Things got heated, as the Rogers County Commissioners answered tough questions Monday from the public about the transparency of the county.

The number of citizens attending the weekly meetings has greatly increased in the shadow of the ongoing investigation into issues involving Commissioners Kirt Thacker and Mike Helm by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI).
Thacker clearly became agitated by the questions posed by some members of the public.
“Stop accusing me for everything from hemorrhoids to uneven wear on your tires,” Thacker said. “The county commissioner is not responsible for every bad thing that happens. No matter what you do you’re not going to please everybody. I don’t have to please everybody; it is to get a job done in the county.” 
Assistant District Attorney David Iski made multiple attempts to keep Thacker on topic and encouraged him to limit his remarks to items that related to the agenda.
The board spent the majority of the meeting reviewing bids for services such as asphalt, rock and other commonly used products or services.
 The board stayed focused on the agenda by selecting the vendors for the next three-month period, until the public comments section stirred up a bit of controversy.
It was the actions of the board that prompted the discussion, as some of the bids were not awarded to the lowest bidder.
Myron Grubowski, a local business owner, questioned the board about multiple issues, including the bidding process, public records and the new Rogers County handbook.
“I don’t understand how some are lowest bid and others ones are closest and first available.” Grubowski said. “We are making phone calls to these vendors and there is no documentation available.”
Grubowski continued to explain that he understood that the commissioners would like the flexibility to choose a vendor.
“Anyone of the vendors could have come back and say they were unfairly treated,” he added. 
“You had one here today that was mad about something, I am not sure what,” Thacker said.
Thacker was referring to Lance Tate, sales representative for Vance Brothers.
Vance Brothers had the lowest bid for micro-surfacing, yet the bid was awarded as “closest or first available”.
Vance’s bid was approximately seven percent lower than the middle bid and 11 percent lower then the high bid.
“We should be doing low bids,” Grubowski said. “ With the county being in such a financial issue I think we should be using low bid and make sure we keep a documentation trail.”
Tate questioned the board’s decision during the meeting, but received no explanation for their action.
Thacker later explained that the reason that he prefers closest or first available is because there have been issues in the past with bidders not showing up to do the work or the quality of the work.
“If you go with closest, first available it provides some incentive for the contractor to do the work,” Thacker said.
“If the first available is not in the specifications of the lowest bidder, then how are the costs regulated,” asked Alger Flood, longtime Claremore resident.
The board was asked about the statute that provides the authority to award a bid based on closest or first available. The commissioners could not provide the information.
Flood continued to question and support Grubowski’s suggestion that the county put in place a documentation trail for these transactions.
A paper trail should exist, Flood added.
“You can’t argue with paper, I spent 32 years in public education. I have had legal counsel tell me, if you don’t have it on paper then it did not happen,” Flood said.
Iski agreed that a paper trail would be best.
Grubowski continued to question the process, including the handling of documentation and public records.
“I understand the paper trail on this and Mr. Grubowski brought up a good thing,” DeLozier said. “I will have a paper trail from now on.”
“I have some grave concerns about this new handbook your human resource director brought up today,” Grubowski said. “The only things that should be kept confidential are executive privilege matters. I have seen some things in the handbook that if you [the county] don’t want it known, maybe you are going to circumvent the system.”
“Additionally, it is understood there was a situation where public records were requested, but when they were requested, there was some type of keyword search done and those records were destroyed,” Grubowski said. “I want to know if the board knows anything about this.” 
There was a long silence. The commissioners responded.
DeLozier said he was unaware of the issue. Helm did not respond.
“I had heard rumors about it, but I don’t have proof,” Thacker said.
Iski asked for more information about the issue, asking for the names of the individuals involved.
“My main concern is that this is the people’s courthouse, the people’s office, we need to be as transparent as we can be,” Grubowski said. 
The discussion continued to escalate and Helm brought the public comments to a close.
A citizen then asked the board for an assurance that the commissioners would be transparent in awarding bids in the future. 
This statement fueled Thacker’s irritation with the scrutiny.
“A county commissioner is guilty until proven innocent, unlike the humans that are innocent until proven guilty. Do I get a little testy, yes, I have never in my life had my integrity questioned so much,” Thacker said.
The meeting was then called into recess by Helm.