Coates cleared: A.G. review concludes juvenile affairs contract was legit

By Patrick B. McGuigan

Published: 30-Dec-2010

The office of Attorney General Drew Edmondson concluded Thursday, December 30, that a contract awarded for a new juvenile detention center was the result of proper process. A multi-county grand jury had studied the issue after assertions that an affair between state Senator Harry Coates and a lobbyist for the ultimate contract winner had marred or tarnished the award process.

Assistant Attorney General Tom Bates, in a six-page memorandum on the matter, said the affair was “irrelevant” due to controls present in the process.

John Estus of The Oklahoman broke the story about Edmondson’s conclusion.

Edmondson’s office said there was “no evidence that the process was compromised or undue influence was exerted to justify further investigation of this matter as a potential criminal violation.”

The contract will allow the agency to move forward with replacement of the troubled Lloyd E. Rader Center.

In a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK, Senate President Pro Tempore Designate Brian Bingman, a Sapulpa Republican, commented regarding the official look at the contract:

“I am relieved to find that there is no evidence of undue influence or criminal wrongdoing in this matter as the Attorney General’s investigation concluded. The seriousness of the allegations required a full and thorough examination of the facts and an independent review by the Attorney General was needed.”

Tom Gruber of Edmondson’s office wrote in a letter to Bingman that the state’s chief law enforcement officer saw “no purpose in reviewing this matter further.”

In his statement, Senator Bingman continued, “In the Oklahoma Senate we strive to uphold high standards of conduct. Personal and private behavior should not prohibit our effectiveness at the Capitol or bring legitimate official business into question. Thankfully, the independent investigation found none of the criminal allegations to be true and Sen. Coates is clear of wrongdoing related to this matter.”

Bingman concluded: “There are no plans at this time for additional inquiries by the Senate. In absence of new information coming to light, I believe this matter is closed and that we should put it behind us.”

In an interview with CapitolBeatOK on Thursday, Senator Coates said, “This is what we’ve been telling people all along. These issues are not entangled.

“On the contract, the people who lost didn’t work very hard and didn’t really give citizens and the adjudicated youth of Oklahoma the kind of facility that would help them move away from an incarcerated state and into being productive and good citizens.”

Coates said losing parties in the contract process, in his view, “didn’t care what extent they went to, to paint negatively those good people who totally have the interests of young people in mind, including those at Central Services, and the good people in Ada and the people with Rite of Passage that have such a good record.

Rite of Passage, the group that won the contract, is a private juvenile academy operator. The organization plans to locate in Ada. The lobbyist linked to Coates had served as the group’s advocate at the Capitol.

Coates contended, “There were interests at work who would put their desires and their objectives ahead of working with young people. It was in their interest that these young people move on to prison rather than recover from whatever influences and behavior got them into prison in the first place.

“For some who won’t make money, it was in their best interest for these young people to end up in adult prisons.”

Bates’ memorandum detailing the investigation summarized documents provided by the Office of Juvenile Affairs (OJA) and the Department of Central Services (DCS) relating to a Request for Proposal (RFP) for the new juvenile facility to replace the Lloyd E. Rader Center.

The RFP, Bates reported, was conducted in keeping with the Performance Information System (PIPS) used by DCS. The system implemented in 2008 is intended, Bates said, “to identify the greatest possible value for the State of Oklahoma during the procurement process, not just the cheapest price.”

Bates emphasized that the identity of potential contractors is not known until well into the process. He detailed the series of six “filters” designed to “progressively eliminate the lower performing suppliers.” The process examines past performance and project capability and includes (at the third step) an interview which is “the first filter in which the evaluation team is aware of the identify of the supplier.” The process continues with identification of the best value, cost verification and a pre-award period.

Near the end of his memo, Bates noted “Questions have been raised … concerning whether the winning RFP provided the required number of secure beds to effectively replace the Rader Center. It was the opinion of DCS that the bid for a treatment center located in Ada was substantially compliant and that it could further negotiate the secured beds aspect of the project without re-opening the entire project for further bidding.”

Bates wrote, “there does not appear to be any evidence that DCS procedures were compromised or that any undue influence was exercised during the RFP process at issue.” Bates said based on his understanding, “it would be very difficult for someone to manipulate the blind evaluation procedures that are in place. In this instance, the winning RFP was judged to be superior by a fairly wide margin.”