Reynolds criticizes Broken Arrow audit process, Burrage takes umbrage
By Patrick B. McGuigan
Auditor and Inspector Steve Burrage attended, and then stormed out of, a press conference held by Rep. Mike Reynolds this afternoon (Thursday, August 12). Burrage took strong exception to the legislator’s description of the process surrounding a state audit of Broken Arrow’s school board, dating back to last year.
Burrage, a Democrat, said the Republican legislator had “lied.” He briefly countered Reynolds’ version of the process, concluding, “I don’t have to put up with this.” He then stormed out of the broadcast press room at the state Capitol.
Before the confrontation at the podium, Reynolds read to reporters a catalogue of concerns about the audit process covering some 10 months, points he reiterated after Burrage’s departure. Several reporters recorded the exchange between the two men.
Reynolds contends the process began last October after he focused on the district’s payment of unused sick leave to retiring teachers, an apparent violation of state law. Burrage’s office clarified this afternoon that its formal audit on other matters originated in a request from the Broken Arrow school board.
In his comments, Reynolds said he had spoken with Burrage often in intervening months, asking when the final audit might be forthcoming. Earlier this year, Reynolds says he was told it would be released within days. Burrage later called him, Reynolds said, to report that release had been delayed because Attorney General Drew Edmondson’s office had asked for additional time to review the case.
Today, Burrage interrupted Reynolds’ initial narrative. Reynolds asked Burrage to wait until he had finished before giving any comments. After Reynolds finished his opening presentation, Burrage strode to the podium at the 4th floor press room, declaring, “You tell lives. I’ll say right to Rep. Reynolds’ face, that you lie.”
Burrage contended, “We’re getting the audit out as fast as we can.” He told Reynolds he did not “appreciate your attitude; you are arrogant.” Burrage said he was offended at being accused of a cover-up. Reynolds replied that he had not accused the auditor of covering up.
After Burrage’s departure, Reynolds repeated he was concerned that the audit would leave out information about alleged problems in the school district, including bid splitting, billings for legal work, shredding of documents, revisions to school board minutes and other issues raised by citizen-watchdogs in the troubled school district.
When a reporter asked Reynolds if he could be challenged for criticizing an audit he has not yet seen, Reynolds concurred, saying that he had left himself open to such criticism, but said he felt he had to raise concerns at this time.
Reynolds said Burrage had told him in a phone conversation earlier today that “work papers” of the audit process would be made available after the audit’s release. Asked by CapitolBeatOK if he took that promise at face value, Reynolds said he did, but added he had also taken at face value previous assurances the audit was nearly done.
In response to questions, Rep. Reynolds said the amount of time that has passed in the audit process could not be called “good government.” Reynolds said, “I hope Mr. Burrage is correct,” that the final product will be laudatory.
Reynolds said he did not think it was good public policy for the subjects of such audits to have “a two week jump” on the public and the news media in becoming aware of the contents of investigative audits. The auditor’s office told CapitolBeatOK yesterday the audit would be presented to school board members on August 18, with the district’s legal counsel present. The audit will then be made available to the public and the news media on September 2.
Reynolds said he would study possible changes in the audit process in the next legislative session.
Burrage was appointed by Gov. Brad Henry to fill out the term of former Auditor & Inspector Jeff McMahan, who was convicted on bribery charges and is now in prison. He is in a challenging election campaign against Republican Gary Jones.