Bills by consultant questioned

Tuesday, March 20th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - A consultant is billing taxpayers thousands of dollars to read books, view videos and perform other questionable tasks tied to Gov. Frank Keating's marriage initiative, a senator charged Tuesday.

Sen. Kevin Easley, D-Tulsa, called for the suspension of a $400,000 contract awarded to Public Strategies, headed by Mary Myrick, former Republican political consultant.

Easley said Myrick had been given a blank check to charge the state for anything she does ``no matter how ludicrous it is. Every time she or one of her staff members takes a breath, the taxpayers have to shell out some cash.''

Myrick said she is working to develop government strategies to address the problem of divorce. She said she consults closely with state government on her expenditures and the money is well spent.

She said that if Easley has a problem with her contract, he should discuss it with state officials, instead of the media.

Easley said the contract was an outrageous use of federal welfare funds originally set aside to help poor people with their heating bills.

Keating later agreed that the Myrick expenditures should be reviewed to see if any of them are ``silly,'' but he said it was premature to suspend the contract.

Keating defended the contract as legal and an attempt to attack a serious problem. ``There is no suggestion of impropriety,'' he said.

Easley questioned payments under the contract with the Department of Human Services, including:

- Viewing a video tape of a potential speaker for a marriage conference, 3.5 hours, $437.50.

- Reading the book, ``A Case for Marriage,'' 10.25 hours, $732.50.

- Reading the book, ``Busy Moms,'' 1.75 hours, $96.25.

- Writing a report on ``A Case for Marriage,'' 2.5 hours, $137.50.

- ``Crowd building'' for a media event in Oklahoma City, .75 hours, $146.20.

- Attending a marriage conference in Minneapolis, $1,989.71.

- Meeting with Jerry Reggie, Keating's health and human services secretary, to discuss billing procedures, $120.00.

- Reviewed quotes from U.S. Rep. Steve Largent for a marriage book, .50 hours, $27.50.

- Telephone conference with U.S. Rep. Steve Largent regarding quotes, 1.25 hours, $156.25.

- Revising biographies of Gov. Keating and first lady Cathy Keating for inclusion in Oklahoma marriage book, 1.0 hours, $55.

- Reviewing photos of Keatings for inclusion in marriage book, .25 hours, $31.25.

Easley said the bulk of expenses by Myrick revolve around public relations events, including $3,800 she was paid to arrange a media photo opportunity featuring several Oklahoma pastors signing a ``marriage covenant'' and pledging to work harder to stop divorce.

``Despite all their protests to the contrary, this is just a high-priced public relations campaign that is operating as if it has money to burn,'' Easley said.

``As long as taxpayers are picking up the tab, their attitude seems to be that no item is too insignificant, too expensive or too silly to bill to the state,'' he said.