Broken Arrow school audit points to problems; officials withhold (for now) sections on open records and vendor favoritism

 Oklahoma Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones, in conjunction with Attorney General Scott Pruitt, released a long-anticipated investigatory audit of the Broken Arrow public school system. However, sections of the report dealing with open records and special favoritism for vendors were not released.

Those sections will eventually be released, the two officials and their offices said today, after Pruitt’s office decides on possible criminal proceedings.

The investigatory audit was requested by Pruitt’s predecessor, Drew Edmondson, in late 2010. The report in the form unveiled today examines allegations of competitive bidding requirement and wrongdoing by public officials. In the sections released, some recommendations were made without, however, indications of wrongdoing rising to the criminal level.

The period under review went from July 1, 2006 to March 31, 2009, and included the administrations of two superintendents of the Broken Arrow system: Jim Sisney (July 1, 2003 to October 23, 2008) and Gary Berber (October 23, 2008 to June 30, 2010). The current superintendent is Dr. Jarod Mendenhall.

In all, 18 objectives were examined in the audit, including open meetings, potential conflicts of interest, competitive bidding, the district’s long-term contractor for heating and air conditioning service, and “three other matters.”

According to the executive summary released today, two possible violations of the Open Meeting Act were reviewed. One was deemed “a possible violation” and was referred to Pruitt, “for legal review and evaluation.”

Several potential conflicts of interest were reviewed. Jones and his staff determined one was “a possible violation” and that matter is now with Pruitt and his staff. Several others “were determined to not be conflicts, based on the information developed” for the audit.

The auditor concluded “there were Public Competitive Bidding Act violations, which we report were the result of failures to timely update policies and procedures …, and other factors including miscommunication, and misinterpretation and/or misapplication of the provisions of the Act. The violations did not appear to be intentional, based on the information developed during our audit.”

Jones and his staff studied seven assertions of criminal conduct and other possible violations in the district’s relationship with a long-time provider of heating, ventilation, and conditioning services. According to the executive summary, “Information developed for this report refutes the allegations, particularly the allegations of criminal conduct.”

Auditors concluded one allegation of “false and fictitious” invoice or claim for fleet insurance coverage “was completely erroneous.” In a look at possible violations in stipends, Jones and his staff concluded in a “generalized finding” that there was Board approval for certain teachers’ stipends, “but no other category of staff.” As for allegations of document shredding by district officials, Jones found “evidence to be inconclusive.”

The 84-page audit is the result of work that began on January 10, Jones’ first day in office. Today, he told reporters, “A report of this type seeks to answer numerous questions. Auditors identify possible violations of policy or statute, and offer recommendations to assist the public entity in improving its internal practices to better safeguard public assets. I am confident in our findings.”

An investigatory audit, dubbed “18f” results from a request of the attorney general to the auditor. As noted in a joint press release today, “Unlike regular or other financial audits, 18f audits are part of the investigation and litigation files of the Attorney General’s Office and are kept confidential to preserve the integrity of the investigation until it’s complete or criminal charges are filed.

Attorney General Pruitt, in a statement provided to CapitolBeatOK, commented, “In the interest of transparency and for the sake of those who were falsely accused, we felt it important to release the vast majority of the audit prior to our completed investigation. My office will continue to review allegations of wrongdoing in the remainder of the audit and seek prosecution of individuals who are criminally responsible.”

According to Jones, the school district has paid $39,868.17 for the audit. That sum reflects expenses prior to when he took office. Jones made a decision not to bill the district for the final months of the audit process. 

In a cover letter, dated June 7, Auditor & Inspector Jones wrote, “A report of this type tends to be critical in nature. Failure to report commendable features in the accounting the operating procedures of the entity should not be interpreted to mean that they do not exist.”

The audit as released today is available at the attorney general’s website and at the auditor’s website.