A controversial political consultant was awarded more than $1.2 million in state contracts without having to compete for the business, according to state records.
Documents show that Mary Myrick was either awarded the contracts on a "sole source" basis or was the only vendor who bid on the state business. All of the contracts were awarded through agencies overseen by Health and Human Services Secretary Jerry Regier.
State Senator Larry Dickerson, author of the state central purchasing reform act of 1998, said it appeared that Regier skirted state competitive bidding laws in an effort to direct state business to a single vendor, in this case Myrick's public relations firm, Public Strategies.
"If he didn't violate the letter of the law, he certainly violated its spirit. These contracts should have been competitively bid, but unfortunately, the process was manipulated in such a way that only one vendor was really in the running. That's not the way the state should do business," said Sen. Dickerson.
State records indicate that Myrick received five major state contracts over the last several years with the help of Jerry Regier.Contract Amount Bid Type Service Performed Agency $27,500 Sole Source Meeting facilitator/Terry D.case (1995) OJA $450,000 Sole Source OKC Safe School Summit organizer (1999-00) OJA $70,282 Sole Source Marriage Initiative facilitator (1999-00) DHS $400,000* Lone Bidder Marriage Initiative consultant (2000-01) DHS $299,920* Lone Bidder Tulsa Safe School Summit organizer (2000-01) Heath Dept. *Both are annual contracts for four years, making them worth $1.6 million and $1.2 million respectively.
The first three contracts were "sole source" contracts that required a signed affidavit attesting that the vendor was the only person who could provide such services to the state. Those contracts were for planning conferences on school safety, doing public relations work on the state marriage initiative and serving as a meeting facilitator on a juvenile affairs case.
Regier personally signed two of the three sole source contracts. The third was signed by an official overseen by Regier as Health and Human Services Secretary.
"Sole source contracts are supposed to be reserved for highly specialized services that by their very nature cannot be competitively bid. I don't think planning a conference or doing PR work for the marriage initiative qualifies for that designation," said Sen. Dickerson.
"If he had bothered to open this up to competitive bidding, I'm sure Secretary Regier could have found dozens of qualified firms and saved the state some money in the process. Instead, there was no competition and one vendor got a sweetheart deal."
After Myrick was given sole source contracts on the marriage initiative and school safety conference, she was subsequently awarded follow-up contracts on those issues under the auspices of a "competitive" process. Myrick, however, was the only bidder.
Given the "expertise" she was allowed to establish as a sole source contractor, it wasn't surprising that Myrick's firm ultimately turned up as the lone bidder, Dickerson noted.
"The pattern is pretty obvious. First, she's given a sole source contract to establish credibility in a particular area. Then, when similar contracts are bid in the months to come, all the competition is scared off because they can see that she's already done the same work on a sole source basis. No one is going to waste time and money bidding on a contract that they know has been specifically tailored for someone else. It's competitive bidding in name only," said Sen. Dickerson.
When past contracting arrangements involving Myrick's firm have been questioned, Regier has defended his decisions, claiming that he followed "detailed procurement laws" in awarding the contracts. That claim doesn't tell the whole story, according to Sen. Dickerson.
"Competitive bidding laws are supposed to ensure that the state gets the best deal possible, but they're only as effective as the people who implement them. If a public official is willing to shade the truth on a sole source affidavit or bend a rule here or there, he can probably rig the process in such a way that one specific vendor will always come out as the winner," said Sen. Dickerson.
The Poteau legislator pointed out that the state does everything it can to discourage public officials from abusing the competitive bidding process, particularly sole source contracts. Under state law, for example, any official who knowingly signs a sole source affidavit containing false information can be subject to a perjury charge.
"This is a serious business and should be treated as such. When public officials work to wire around those rules, it undermines public trust in the government. We can't afford that," said Sen. Dickerson.