County official says he was ‘blindsided’ by vote

By Traci Chapman
Published on February 21, 2008

The race to bring a jail proposal to a May vote cleared another hurdle Tuesday when County Commissioners hired the bond counsel for the project.

Commissioners chose Oklahoma City based Public Finance Law Group in a split 2-1 vote. District 2 Commissioner Don Young voted against hiring the firm and accused attorney Andy Bass, who was hired by Commissioners to help coordinate the project, of “blindsiding” him.

“I’m tired of being blindsided. I didn’t even know we were hiring bond counsel today,” he said. “Do you know who the chairman of this board is?”

Bass presented proposals received from three area firms — Public Finance and Phillips McCaffrey McVay and Murrah, both of Oklahoma City, and Glenn Floyd of Norman — after being told by Commissioners to find candidates for the position at a special meeting of the Public Facilities Authority on Feb. 11.

Allan Brooks of Public Finance said the firm will be responsible for working with the project architect and financial adviser to determine the amount of sales tax needed to fund the new facility, as well as drafting the resolution necessary to bring the issue to a May vote.

At Monday’s meeting, Young said he “felt comfortable” with Floyd’s firm because he had dealt with him before. However, District 3 Commissioner Grant Hedrick made a motion to hire Public Finance after speaking with financial adviser Rick Smith. Smith’s firm, Municipal Finance Services, has worked extensively with both Public Finance and the project architect, Bruton Knowles and Love.

District 1 Commissioner Phil Carson seconded Hedrick’s motion, saying, “We want to stay with one group that works well together.”

Sheriff Lewis Hawkins said architect Bill Knowles was waiting for information from Commissioners about the flow line of two manholes to determine the extent of a sewer line relocation to finish his estimate of the project’s cost. Knowles said he expects to receive that information this week. Once he has that data, he said he should have an approximate cost for the facility “in a few days.”
Smith and Hawkins have said they believe the approximate cost of the project will run between $27 million and $29 million.

Until final figures are received from Knowles, Smith said it is impossible to estimate the amount of sales tax voters will be requested to approve.

Knowles, Brooks and Smith have about two weeks to complete the process if the project is to go to a May 13 vote because a resolution must be filed with the county election board by March 13.

Commissioners proposed final plans for the facility Jan. 17. At that time, Commissioners said they wanted to place the sales tax proposal on a May ballot to allow voters to give the issue “the attention it deserves.”

The plan hit a stumbling block Feb. 4 when Young refused to hire Municipal Finance — which was the firm that came with Knowles’ “obvious recommendation” — saying he wanted to look at other prospective advisers. He also said at that time he felt the project was being “rushed” to a vote because Hawkins hadn’t communicated the “real need” for a new facility earlier.

“The sheriff knew a year ago he wanted a new jail — why didn’t he come to us then,” he said. “We’re not ready to do this. We sat on this for two years and all of a sudden, we’re in a hurry.”

Hawkins said Young should “be careful” about saying he hadn’t gone to Commissioners about problems with the jail. Hawkins, who said he has lobbied Commissioners for a new jail for years, pointed out issues with the existing facility that could cost the county “a lot” of money — as well as other “headaches” — if the project does not go on a May ballot.

“We have serious issues with this jail — not just the terrible overcrowding, but health and safety issues,” he said. “If we are not making valid headway to improve — and I mean substantially improve — our facilities, he (jail inspector) can show us the fire. He can fine the jail for non-compliance or he can choose to shut down part or all of the jail.”

Hawkins said the facility needs a major overhaul to the heating, air conditioning and plumbing systems that would cost the county over $250,000.

After failing to move forward with the project Feb. 5, Bass returned with proposals from three additional firms at a special meeting convened Feb. 11. Commissioners ultimately unanimously voted to hire Municipal Finance, citing the firm’s “extensive” experience in handling jail financing, as well as Knowles’ recommendation of the firm. At that time, Commissioners also directed Bass to come back with proposals from firms interested in serving as bond counsel.

After the split vote, Young told Bass he was unhappy about being “excluded” from the process of choosing firms to work on the jail project.

Brooks said his firm “has acted as 100-percent bond counsel on all of the jail projects” Smith’s firm has handled. Bass said he did not know the extent of Phillips McFall’s jail financing experience.

Floyd served as bond consultant for the county on the Gary E. Miller Juvenile Justice Center project. Then-State Auditor Clifton Scott reviewed the fees charged by Floyd, attorney Mark Cantrell and financial consultant John Truel in connection with the project.

Scott found nothing illegal in the transactions, but former County Clerk Mark Mishoe said each of the three consultants on that project were paid 1.5 percent of the total project cost.

Public Finance and Municipal Finance will each receive half of 1 percent of the total project cost. Municipal Finance has already agreed to cap its fee at $140,000, and Public Finance has agreed to a cap of its fee. That sum is unknown at this time.


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