With the Joint Committee on State Aircraft apparently entering the final leg of its inquiry, legislative leaders are congratulating panel members for the fact-finding work they've done to date.
"Before this committee began its work, the people of Oklahoma had legitimate questions about whether their $3 million was spent properly or improperly. Had it not been for the hard work and diligence of committee members, there are some things we probably never would have found out," said House Speaker Loyd Benson.
"Thousands of dollars have been spent attacking committee members for simply doing their jobs. If the committee had bowed to the arm-twisting and concluded the inquiry prematurely, we would never have learned some very disturbing facts," said Senate President Pro Tempore Stratton Taylor.
Some of the key findings uncovered by the committee include:
- Tulsair's Tom Clark reviewed all potential competitor's airplanes with DPS Lt. Dennis Dutsch weeks before the bid was let by DPS;
- Clark testified that he and a competitor from Raytheon agreed to "team up in a team effort" so that whoever sold the plane would pay a fee or commission for helping with the sale. After Clark's plane was purchased, the Tulsair owner paid the competitor $5,000 to establish "future relationships" with him. Clark testified the employee was later fired for accepting the money after an internal investigation by Raytheon;
- In-kind campaign contributions to the 1994 Keating campaign for air services may have exceeded the legal limit because only fuel charges were reported;
- An official with Tulsair described the state airplane sale as looking like a "cooked deal";
- Clark testified he wasn't informed until June 9th, 1996 that the state was scrapping the sole-source method of purchase. DPS Commissioner Bob Ricks testified sole-source was dropped in early May. Dutsch testified he never worked on a sole-source contract, but later attempted to alter his testimony after discussing the matter with Ricks;
- Dutsch admitted Tulsair wrote major portions of the bid specifications on a contract it was eventually awarded. Tulsair later signed a "non-collusion affidavit," stating there was no improper contact between the vendor and the state;
- Ricks admitted it "would be a crime" if Tulsair was given information on bid prices. Tulsair lowered its bid by $25,000 on the final day, allowing it to edge a competitor by a few thousand dollars, according to DPS bid evaluation sheets;
- Ricks admitted the formal bidding period was only 7 days long and confirmed that an Internet ad only ran the weekend before the bid period ended on Monday. Tulsair had been working on its bid for several months before other vendors were given the 7 days to produce competing proposals;
- Ricks conceded Dutsch may have misled members of the Legislative Bond Oversight Commission on June 10th, 1996 when he told them it was a competitive bid situation and the Department of Public Safety had no specific plane in mind;
- Tulsair scheduled its airplane to be repainted, the state flag affixed and serial number 1OK painted on before the bid proposal even went out.
"The committee began with just the tip of an iceberg and proceeded to find a good deal more under the surface. Just when you begin to think there couldn't be any more undisclosed information, something entirely new pops up," said Senator Taylor.
"No objective person can examine the committee's findings to date and conclude that this inquiry hasn't uncovered some very useful information. I think the people who labeled this a 'witch hunt' should be embarrassed," said Speaker Benson.
The legislative leaders created the committee in January to gather information about the use and purchase of Governor Keating's airplane. The panel has been charged with drafting new aircraft policy.
"Committee members are on track to completing their assignment. I'm eager to see their recommendations," said Speaker Benson.
"Perhaps the most important part of this inquiry is the home stretch where policy changes are considered. I'm confident we'll take steps to ensure the same mistakes aren't repeated," said Senator Taylor.
Senate Communications Division (405) 521-5605 1998