Claremore Daily Progress

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September 16, 2012

Vendors and Venues - County got more than gifts

CLAREMORE — Relationships between Oklahoma’s government officials and vendors has been a concern of citizens dating back to the Commissioners’ Scandal of the 1980’s.

That scandal touched every county in the state and found that kickbacks were common between vendors and elected officials.

Rogers County District 2 Commissioner Mike Helm and his FEMA Coordinator Robin Anderson have formed close relationships with some vendors that led to a number of county sponsored dinners that were funded by vendors.

These events have occurred for at least three years, possibly longer and have cost thousands of dollars.

The parties often referred to as “appreciation dinners” included door prizes and other gifts provided by vendors.

The events are just another example of questionable practices that have been brought to light through an Open Records request by the Claremore Progress.

Anderson was contacted numerous times by the Progress regarding the transactions with vendors but refused to comment.

She has requested that all questions from the Claremore Progress be submitted in writing via email.

“That is our policy,” Anderson said.

When questioned about which county policy the request was under, Anderson responded by saying it was not a county policy.

“It is just a policy that Mike and I discussed, and decided we needed to use,” Anderson said.

The Progress submitted multiple questions about her involvement in the vendor transactions to both personal and work email addresses for Anderson and received no response.

Despite Anderson’s lack of responsiveness her past emails detail the transactions.

The emails of Anderson and Helm detail the transactions, including an event on March 19, 2010 at the Hard Rock Casino in Catoosa.

Rogers County District 2 was listed as the account holder and the payment method was direct bill, however no payment was made by Rogers County, according to the Rogers County Clerk’s office.

Reservations were made between Anderson and Mary Ann Dunn, Senior Convention Service Manager, for approximately 60 people at $22.95 per person.

Anderson did request the room be reserved for as many as 150 people.

“There is a possibility we may invite other employees of Rogers County,” Anderson wrote.

Room rental was approximately $750 alone, according to Dunn’s email to Anderson.

Anderson did ask Dunn waive the room rental fee for the event.

Helm eventually sent a written ‘thank you’ to Dunn.

“Mary, we as a County in District 2 of Rogers County, are very grateful to you and the Nation for allowing us to hold our Christmas party in your beautiful facility.”

The emails between Anderson and Dunn give specific details of payment arrangements that were made with vendors.

Dunn was contacted by the Progress and refused to comment.

On March 9, 2010 Anderson wrote, “Have any of the vendors given you their credit card information?”

Anderson also detailed a concern of one vendor.

“I have a vendor that is wondering if he can make the check or credit card payment to the hotel only. His company is questioning him because of the casino name on it.”

Anderson contacted multiple vendors regarding their payment for the event.

The emails detail Anderson’s request directly to vendors requesting payment.

One example is an email between John Town, a Time Striping employee, and Anderson.

She sent the credit card authorization form from the Hard Rock Casino.

The form lists the organization as Rogers County District 2 at 6190 E. 400 Road, Oologah with commissioner Helm or Anderson as the contact to Town.

In another email, Anderson asks, “If I can help you with anything else, let me know. Did you say you would be paying with a check or credit card?”

Time Striping was the company that the Oklahoma State Auditor detailed and questioned transactions that occurred with Rogers County due to improper bidding procedures.

Rogers County spent approximately $100,000 with the company in 2009 without bidding services and a number of invoices were written just under $10,000 to avoid state mandated bidding procedures.

This is not the only event Time Striping was requested to participate in.

Helm sent a thank you note dated March 28, 2011, to Trent Taylor at Time Striping.

The letter states, “Your generosity never ceases to amaze me. You have come through time and again for Rogers County. The door prizes you have provided for our Christmas party were greatly appreciated. Again, our event was a tremendous success because of you. We can never survive without our partners,” signed sincerely Mike Helm.

Other thank you letters were issued to vendors including, Kirby Smith Machinery, Bruckner’s Truck Sales, Boxcer Construction Equipment, Warren Cat and APAC.

None of the businesses are based in Rogers County although they account for a majority of purchase orders from District 2.

Millions of dollars of county and federal FEMA funds have been spent with these vendors in the past three years.

The letters detail the relationship as Helm states, “your generosity has astounded us once again,” and “On behalf of the employees and officers of Rogers County, we thank you.”

The Progress obtained the letters by Open Records request from Helm’s computer located in the Rogers County Courthouse.

Multiple events were hosted by Rogers County District 2 and paid for by vendors including an event at Rogers State University in March of 2012.

The meal cost approximately $1,800 according to Summer Gayman, catering manager.

During the event, door prizes were given to employees and once again there is no record of payment by Rogers County for the event, according to officials in the Rogers County Clerk’s office.

Rogers County’s own policy handbook addresses this issue. Under the guidelines for appropriate conduct the policy states, “Types of behavior and conduct that Rogers County considers inappropriate include, but are not limited to the following…soliciting or accepting gratuities.”

These vendors did not simply offer the to pay for the events, Anderson solicited the vendors for participation.

Her emails also document the solicitation by Anderson of vendors for funds to sponsor the summer picnic hosted by the Association of County Commissioners of Oklahoma.

Anderson not only actively solicited funds to benefit Rogers County District 2 but an ACCO as well.

Rogers County pays membership dues to ACCO for the commissioners and employees.

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