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A controversial consultant to Governor Keating's state marriage initiative is under scrutiny again - this time for receiving $716,000 from state agencies headed by Health and Human Services Secretary Jerry Regier.
State records indicate that agencies controlled by Regier cut numerous checks to Mary Myrick's public relations firm over a 19-month period. The largest payment came from the Office of Juvenile Affairs last year when it shelled out $400,000 to Myrick over a span of just 11 days.
Senator Kevin Easley, who has criticized Myrick for billing the state for reading books and watching videos as part of the state marriage initiative, said he was surprised by the amount of money that was directed to her through Regier-led agencies.
"I knew she was making a bundle off of the marriage initiative, but I had no idea just how profitable Ms. Myrick's relationship with Jerry Regier was. She seems to have followed him from agency to agency, picking up extra cash at each and every stop. Whatever inside connections she has with Secretary Regier are certainly paying off for her," said Sen. Easley.
In the last two years, Myrick's public relations firm Public Strategies has received money from at least three different state agencies - the Office of Juvenile Affairs, the State Health Department and the Department of Human Services. At the time she received the money, the agencies were either overseen by Regier as cabinet secretary or run by him as agency
For example, just days after Regier was installed as the health department's acting director last June, Myrick was written her first check by the agency. Over the next six months, she was paid more than $100,000 by the health department.
"While we were struggling to find money for nursing home inspectors, Jerry Regier was funneling health department money to a public relations firm. I'll be interested to learn what vital service it was performing for the taxpayers of Oklahoma," said Sen. Easley.
The payments from state agencies include:
*$400,000 of this amount was paid to Myrick over just an 11-day period in
February of 2000. A single check totaled $250,000.
"I think a lot of taxpayers will want to know what Ms. Myrick was doing to merit that much money. Maybe she was performing legitimate services or maybe she was just getting a sweetheart deal because she was friends with Jerry Regier. I don't know the answer yet, but it certainly looks very suspicious in light of what we've learned about her work on the state
marriage initiative," said Sen. Easley.
The state records do not indicate what services Myrick's firm Public Strategies performed for the money, but the state lawmaker hopes to secure that information in the coming days. He said he will be requesting contracts, bidding information, billing invoices and other material from Regier and the agencies involved.
"I think we owe it to the taxpayers to keep digging until we get to the bottom of this. They deserve to know why one person keeps getting handed check after check from different state agencies. It seems like if you want to be a millionaire in Oklahoma, you don't have to go on a quiz show. You just have to have a special relationship with Jerry Regier," noted Sen. Easley.
In addition to his role as cabinet secretary, Regier serves as Governor Keating's point man on the state marriage initiative. It was in that role that Regier helped direct a $400,000 marriage initiative contract to Myrick in October.
In her application for that contract, Myrick listed Regier as her top reference. She came under fire for her work on the marriage initiative after it was learned that she was billing the state for frivolous services such as reading books and watching videos. Myrick also billed the state for performing administrative duties for Regier, such as arranging dinner meetings for him and replying to his e-mail.