Senator, Lobbyist Relationship Allegations Leads To Delay In Juvenile Facility Contract
The Office of Juvenile Affairs has delayed the awarding of the contract for a new juvenile facility in Ada while the Oklahoma Senate investigates allegations of bias in the decision process.
Critics have said the relationship between State Senator Harry Coates, R-Seminole, and a lobbyist may have influenced his decision concerning a new juvenile facility.
OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Office of Juvenile Affairs has decided to delay awarding a contract for a new facility in Ada. The move came after allegations a state senator's relationship with a lobbyist may have influenced the decision.
State Sen. Harry Coates is a married, 60-year-old Republican from Seminole. There are rumors the politician had an affair with 29-year-old lobbyist, Haley Atwood, who is also married. Neither will talk about the exact nature of their relationship, but some have questioned if their connection led Sen. Coates to steer the $10 million a year juvenile facility contract to an Ada-based group and its private operator, Rite of Passage, for whom Atwood worked. Losing bidders claim the process was rigged.
The Oklahoma Senate announced Thursday it would investigate the allegations there may have been bias. OJA announced Friday because of those questions, it would defer the awarding of the contract for up to 30 days while the Senate completed its review.
"There are some with the opinion that the signing of the contract ends the process. That is not correct," said Robert Christian, OJA Executive Director. "The awarding of the contract is the trigger for the appeals process. At the point the award is made, an unsuccessful bidder may file a protest with the Department of Central Services."
House Speaker-Elect Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, said delaying the contract award was the right thing to do.
"I support the agency's decision to delay awarding the contract because an action of this magnitude should not occur under a cloud of doubt," said House Speaker-elect Steele. "Any decisions concerning this issue directly impact the juveniles served."
The incoming leader of the Senate, President Pro Tem-designate Brian Bingman is heading up the investigation. Bingman met with Juvenile Affairs officials Thursday, but a spokesman said he has not yet spoken with Senator Coates.
The new detention facility, where ever it's built, will replace the aging Rader Center in Sand Springs. Juvenile authorities hope the new center will be open by mid-2012.
The Ada Youth Academy Authority also released this statement regarding the contract delay:
"We believe that our proposal provides the best value to the state of Oklahoma, and expect a successful outcome in regards to any investigation and appeal. We are confident that during the Senate's review they will conclude that Ada's team presented the best proposal."
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