Feuding officials draw criticism

Sunday, August 21st 2005, 4:09 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Two county officials are wasting staff time and taxpayer money to fight a political feud, several of their peers said.

District 2 Commissioner Brent Rinehart has issued at least a half dozen news releases in the past two months attacking Assessor Leonard Sullivan.

Sullivan has responded by calling Rinehart, ``a pathological liar,'' and, ``a sick human being.''

Rinehart claims Sullivan and his staff have been digging into his personal life, an accusation Sullivan denies.

Rinehart's attacks on Sullivan have been over issues ranging from an audit that happened before Sullivan took office to stipends Sullivan gave to his employees that Rinehart called illegal.

The Oklahoma County district attorney ruled nine years ago that such stipends are legal.

Treasurer Butch Freeman and Rinehart's fellow county commissioners question the validity of the dispute.

``A great majority of the media circus that some of my colleagues are trying to attract does not involve substantive matters that the taxpayers would or should care about,'' District 1 Commissioner Jim Roth said. ``It's childish, immature and detracts from the rest of the good work that a great majority of officials and employees are doing.''

Rinehart defends his claims about Sullivan, saying they concern taxpayer money.

``When things like that come across my desk, that warrants looking into,'' Rinehart said. ``These are things that still deal with the administration of the county. It's incumbent upon me to fight those battles.''

Rinehart said he can't be sure how many hours his staff has spent looking into and putting out news releases about Sullivan's office.

The feud goes back to a move Rinehart and District 3 Commissioner Stan Inman made earlier this year, disbanding the county budget board and giving commissioners more authority over the budget.

Sullivan and the other elected officials who used to sit on the budget board with commissioners fought the decision unsuccessfully. During the debate, Sullivan and Rinehart often sparred.

Sullivan said Rinehart's recent attacks are part of an effort to unseat him when he runs for re-election next year.

``He's just building up a portfolio for the person he's getting to run against me,'' Sullivan said. ``It's all just political vindictiveness.''

Rinehart blames Sullivan and his chief deputy, Larry Stein, for rumors circulating in the county office building and on the Internet about his personal life.

Criticism also has surfaced about a dump truck Rinehart sold for scrap.

``For them to spend time trying to scrutinize the way I do business, I don't think I really mind that as long as it's county business related,'' Rinehart said. ``For them to spend staff time to go into my personal stuff, yeah I got a problem with that.''