In Thursday’s Association of Central Oklahoma Governments’ Board meeting, the debate was alive and well. For the most part these meetings are reasonably mundane with reoccurring items that need to be approved monthly, such as monthly budgeted expenditures, transportation funding updates and presentations.
The Association of Central Oklahoma Governments (ACOG) is a voluntary association of city, town and county governments within the Central Oklahoma area. The ACOG region includes Oklahoma, Cleveland, Canadian and Logan Counties.
ACOG’s purpose is to aid local governments in planning for common needs, cooperating for mutual benefit and coordinating for sound regional development. ACOG is an organization of, by and for local governments that allows member entities to work in partnership to address issues or problems common to many jurisdictions. This regional cooperation serves to strengthen both the individual and collective capabilities of local governments.
However, on the August 13th agenda there was item up for consideration to authorize the Executive Director to execute a contract with the Department of Commerce to facilitate funding projects for the Oklahoma Medical Research and the Jim Thorpe Association in the amount of $15 million and $1 million respectively. This is not the first time that a request has been asked by the legislature to direct ACOG to receive and payout tax payer money to a pre-named entity public or private.
Commissioner Cleveland of Cleveland County asks, “is this legal to indirectly fund a private organization with public dollars. It seems to me if something is illegal to directly do it. Then it would equally be illegal to indirectly do it.” Mark Sharpton, Logan County Commissioner agreed stating that because it has been done like this in the past does not mean that it is right to do it now or in the future.
Mayor Ray Poland of Jones made the motion to table the item until ACOG could get an Attorney General’s opinion. The item was successfully tabled to next month’s meeting. However, Attorney General’s opinions usually take more than a month and especially since the current AG is basically a lame duck and in campaign mode for Governor this opinion may take longer.
Commissioner Cleveland, Commissioner Sharp and Mayor Poland have valid concerns with this Oklahoma business as usual. The three main concerns are:
· If the state legislator cannot directly appropriate money to an entity, then can they indirectly do it through ACOG?
· Can the state legislator appropriate publicly collected tax dollars and directed it to a private organization whether for profit or not for profit?
· In a time of budget short falls, how can the state afford these kinds of discretionary spending?
“The state treasurer has been telling us for the past six months of under projections of revenue for the state. I just heard today that state agencies were ask to take cuts in their budgets. Commissioners were told that there was just no room in the budget for additional maintenance and operations funding for their highway districts and then something like this comes up,” said Commissioner Cleveland after the meeting. He and Commissioner Sharpton stated that they do not have anything against OMR or the Jim Thorpe Association but this is a matter of clarification. If this is a legal use of public funds and if ACOG is to be used this way.
It is great to have elected officials that will responsibly question things like this. I will anxiously be waiting on the opinion of the Attorney General on this matter. Until then I hope the item can continue to be tabled.