Sen. Greg Treat today responded to comments made by Blake Wade, executive director of the Native American Cultural and Educational Authority, regarding Senate opponents of a bond issue for the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum (AICCM). Treat said Wade’s statements were completely out of line for a state agency director, demonstrated sheer arrogance, and were a reminder of the good-old-boy approach that Oklahoma voters have firmly rejected.
Wade’s comments came after the Senate General Conference Committee on Appropriations approved a $40 million bond package for AICCM on Tuesday.
The agency director is quoted in The Oklahoman, saying “I’m going to go on the record right now and say I’m very sorry for those three Senators, and I just hope they are understanding about how these things work.” Wade further said “what’s so shocking is these three or four Senators seem to be running the whole show … this is just getting to be ridiculous.”
Treat said Wade was right about one thing.
“He’s right that this is the way it might have worked when he was lobbying for bond issues when Gene Stipe and Mike Mass ran things at the Capitol,” said Treat, R-Oklahoma City. “Oklahoma voters have rejected that approach and the leaders who enabled it. The days when power brokers could blindly commit the taxpayers of this state to ever greater debt without meaningful opposition are over. If lawmakers want to remove the last vestiges of those decades of malfeasance and prove to the people of Oklahoma that the days of irresponsible leadership are over, they will defeat this bond issue.”
In a Tuesday press conference, Treat said Wade’s agency was out of control, and provided figures highlighting the agency’s waste and inefficiency. If Oklahoma City’s Devon Tower had been built at the same cost per square foot as AICCM, Treat said, the skyscraper would have cost $2.4 billion to build. However, Devon will spend approximately $750 million to construct Oklahoma’s tallest building.
“The sheer scope of the waste at this agency, and its ultimate cost to the taxpayers of Oklahoma, is just shocking,” Treat said. “The numbers underscore the need for a thorough audit and consolidation of the agency under the Department of Tourism and Recreation. I’m saddened that nothing has changed at the agency after Blake Wade was brought in as executive director. The vote on this bond issue will be a clear test of principle, and whatever the outcome, Oklahomans will be given a better picture of what their leaders stand for.”
Treat noted the state has invested more than $63 million in the project, not including annual appropriations of $1.5 million to support the agency’s staff. Once construction is complete, the agency has expressed its intention to expand to as many as 60 employees. The agency has also received approximately $30 million in federal funds. Despite this, the agency has submitted a plan to lawmakers suggesting it will take another $50 million to finish building the museum, and a further $30 million to secure exhibits.
On May 23, 2008, after the Legislature passed a second bond for the project, an AICCM press release stated the $25 million would “fund all of the building structures” and that the agency would raise “the remaining $75 million from private sources including American Indian Tribes”. As of May 5, 2011, the museum had raised just $266,289.94 from private, non-tribal sources since May 23, 2008.
Treat noted AICCM has since then raised approximately $40 million, according to agency staff.
“If they are capable of raising $40 million in a matter of months, imagine what they could have done to avert this disaster had they only made the effort in previous years,” Treat said. “This agency’s leaders have gotten exactly what they wanted – a project that won’t benefit the majority of Oklahomans, but for which all Oklahomans must pay regardless of whether they want it or not. As lawmakers, we have a responsibility to stop this.”
Treat also indicated he plans to submit an open records request seeking all correspondence between the agency’s staff and any lobbyists.