A consultant to Governor Keating's state marriage initiative is billing the taxpayers for reading books, watching videos and performing other questionable tasks, according to the invoices she has submitted to the Department of Human Services.
Senator Kevin Easley, a state lawmaker who has criticized the contract and called for its suspension, said the bills submitted by Mary Myrick's firm are outrageous.
"It's crazy to make taxpayers pay someone to sit down on the couch and read a book or watch a video. I'm surprised they didn't bill us for popcorn," said Sen. Easley.
Since Oklahoma City-based political consultant Mary Myrick was handed the $400,000 marriage initiative contract in October, her public relations firm Public Strategies has been billing the state by the hour for a variety of "services," ranging from book reading to video viewing.
According to invoices she submitted to DHS, Myrick billed the state each time a different member of her public relations firm read or reviewed the same book on marriage. For example, the state paid $732.50 for Myrick and two employees to read "A Case for Marriage." The state was then billed an additional $137.50 when one of the employees wrote a report on the book.
"It looks like they've just given Ms. Myrick a blank check and agreed to pay her for anything and everything she does, no matter how ludicrous it is. Every time she or one of her staff members takes a breath, the taxpayers have to shell out some cash," said Sen. Easley.
Some of Myrick's billing items include:
"I don't see how we're going to keep families together by paying a political consultant to read books, watch a little TV and plan a few dinner meetings. To say that's she's wasting taxpayers' money would be an understatement," said Sen. Easley.
The bulk of the expenses for which Myrick has billed the state revolve around the staging of public relations events. For example, Myrick billed the state approximately $3,800 to arrange a media photo opportunity featuring several Oklahoma City pastors signing a "marriage covenant" pledging to work harder to stop divorce. She is also billing the state for staging similar media events in Tulsa and Enid and for setting up an information booth at the Oklahoma conference of the Baptist General Convention.
"Despite all their protests to the contrary, this is just a high-priced public relations campaign that is operating as if it has money to burn. As long as taxpayers are picking up the tab, their attitude seems to be that no item is too insignificant, too expensive or too silly to bill to the
state," said Sen. Easley.
Two weeks ago the state lawmaker called for suspension of the contract, citing Myrick's failure to meet requirements on quarterly reports. With the latest revelations on misspending, Sen. Easley is renewing that call and asking Governor Keating to intervene.
"It's time that Governor Keating intervened and put the brakes on this runaway spending train. As the creator of the state marriage initiative, I can't think that he would condone squandering tax dollars on something as wasteful and superficial as this. We need to conduct a thorough review of this contract before one more dollar is spent," said Sen. Easley.
Myrick was the only bidder on the one-year, $400,000 contract. It has a three-year renewal option, making it worth $1.6 million.
*Mary Myrick is a longtime political consultant. Most recently, Myrick made headlines when she and a firm employee attempted to prevent Oklahoma City animal control officers from removing Myrick's pet monkey from her office after a biting incident (Source: Daily Oklahoman).