Federal funds originally earmarked for local drug prevention and school safety programs ended up in the pockets of a controversial Oklahoma City political consultant and entertainer Bill Cosby, thanks to a sole source contract executed by Health and Human Services Secretary Jerry Regier, according to state records.
Contract information indicates that Regier used the federal grant money to pay Mary Myrick to organize a one-day Safe and Drug Free School Summit in Oklahoma City in February of 2000. The contract for Myrick's public relations firm totaled $450,000.
"I don't understand why we're taking money away from people who are on the front lines of the drug war and giving it to a political consultant to plan a one-day seminar. Community-based prevention programs are some of the best tools we have to protect our young people from the dangers of drugs. We shouldn't be draining their already limited resources," said Senator
Larry Dickerson, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government and Transportation.
The federal grant money had been going to Area Prevention Resource Centers and DARE programs in more than a dozen communities around the state, but in late 1999, Governor Keating ordered the money redirected to the Office of Juvenile Affairs for the purposes of staging a Safe and Drug Free School Summit - a one-day conference held in Oklahoma City in February of 2000.
As Health and Human Services Cabinet Secretary and OJA director, Regier oversaw the project. One of his first acts was to award the conference contract to Mary Myrick of Public Strategies, without seeking competitive bids. Regier instead signed a sole source affidavit claiming that Myrick's firm Public Strategies was the only vendor capable of organizing the
one-day seminar in the available time frame.
Myrick was paid a fee of $100,000 to organize the conference and given an additional $350,000 to buy media advertising, pay seminar expenses and hire guest speakers for the one-day seminar. The largest amount of money went to entertainer Bill Cosby, who was paid $175,000 to serve as keynote speaker at the event.
"I like Bill Cosby just has much as the next guy, but I think that the $175,000 would have been put to better use in the drug prevention programs on the community level. Basically, money was taken from the people in the trenches and used to bankroll a glitzy, four-star command performance at the Myriad. I'm sure everyone enjoyed themselves at the conference, but I'm not convinced that that was the best way to spend money earmarked for drug prevention efforts," said Senator Dickerson.
Some of the expenses reported by Myrick included:
Senator Dickerson said he became interested in the issue when he was informed that the state had pulled back federal grant money from drug prevention efforts in communities around the state. Area Prevention Resource Centers or APRCs operate in Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Lawton, Grove, Wagoner, Shawnee, Muskogee, Idabel, Enid, Ardmore, Clinton, Guymon, McAlester, Okmulgee, Stillwater, Bartlesville and Norman. Before the money was redirected, the APRC's had been receiving the federal grant money on an annual basis since 1988.
"I have a real problem with taking that drug prevention money out of those communities where it was doing some good. Maybe there is a good reason for the shift in priorities, but it's certainly hard to imagine what that reason might be," said Senator Dickerson.
State records indicate that $1.25 million in federal grant money was taken from the APRCs and redirected to the Governor's Safe and Drug Free Schools Summit and related activities.
In addition to last year's conference in Oklahoma City, a second summit is being staged in Tulsa this week. Once again, Myrick's firm Public Strategies is being paid to coordinate the event. According to a report in the Daily Oklahoman, $600,000 has been allocated to the Tulsa conference, half of which is earmarked for Public Strategies.
"I don't understand why this one political consultant keeps getting bigger and bigger paychecks while funding allocations for our local drug prevention efforts are getting smaller and smaller. I think we need to review the program and return the money to the community efforts as quickly as possible," said Senator Dickerson.