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OSBI Commission promises investigation into leader of state bureau of investigation

The OSBI building (KOKH/File)

The leader of the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation will stay on the job amid an internal investigation into allegations he, and other administrators, retaliated against employees who complained about the agency’s leadership.

The commission that oversees the agency spent nearly three hours on Tuesday in closed-door meetings hearing the complaints and discussing the future employment of agency director Stan Florence. Tension within the agency began to mount in February after dozens of employees signed a letter to the commission detailing what they say were failures in the leadership of the agency.

A lawyer for the Oklahoma Public Employees Association is representing some of OSBI employees who filed the original complaint and since say they have been subject to retaliation by administrators for their critical comments.

RELATED: OSBI administration faces complaints of retaliation

OSBI Commission Chairman Russell Noble made a motion to remove Director Florence following the lengthy executive sessions. That motion failed to garner any support from other commission members.

Noble, along with the other commissioners, were recipients of a 2016 email sent by Director Florence about an ongoing problem with one of the agency’s facilities in Lawton. The Lawton lab was essentially abandoned in September of 2016 due to years of toxic mold that persisted despite past remediation efforts. Commissioners in 2016 requested the update from the director.

RELATED: OSBI facing questions over employee safety

According to internal OSBI memos and emails obtained by FOX 25, the letter sent to commissioners contained multiple factual errors that downplayed the agency's knowledge of the mold and the liability of administrators during past remediation efforts.

When asked if he was concerned about being given factually inaccurate information from the director, Chairman Noble replied, “No comment.”

Noble replied, “no comment” to any questioned asked by FOX 25, with the exception of one question asking him to clarify his position as board chairman and what he saw his role on the oversight body.

“I'm chairman of the commission, but I have no comment in regards to Lawton lab,” Noble said.

The OSBI’s internal emails detail the mold problem was known before the building was even purchased and that mold returned shortly after the state spent more than $150,000 to clean it up.

Missing in the documentation provided by the OSBI is an explanation of who in the administration was responsible for overseeing contractors or ensuring all the remediation recommendations were followed.

Sources inside the OSBI say it is possible the agency has failed to turn over all the required documentation due to the fact some agency administrators conduct state business using private email addresses that are not part of the state’s servers.

Multiple sources within the OSBI provided FOX 25 with copies of emails that should have been responsive to open record requests made this year that are from the “Gmail” account of OSBI Deputy Director Charlie Curtis.

Private email accounts used for state business are subject to open records release.

Curtis was mentioned in other internal OSBI memo’s as being involved in the oversight of the Lawton mold remediation efforts.

Other commissioners told FOX 25 after Tuesday’s meeting they were warned to stay silent.

Norman Police Chief Keith Humphrey told FOX 25 said he understood the seriousness of the issues presented to the commission and the seriousness of being on an oversight body that received a misleading email from the director.

“There's always concerns,” Humphrey told FOX 25, “Let's just say that, but I’m just not in a position to talk about it right now.”

The chairman said everything from the employee complaints through the Lawton Lab are still open and current investigations, but there's no timeline on when the investigations will be finished, or what steps commissioners will take in regards to the information they have received.

“After having met with the OSBI Commission we are convinced that the OSBI Commission is taking matters related to employees’ complaints very seriously,” Sterling Zearley, the executive director of the Oklahoma Public Employees Association told FOX 25 in a statement following the meeting. “We, after having met with the OSBI Commission, believe that matters will continue in an orderly fashion, and the OSBI will attempt to address employees’ concerns, morale and complaints.”

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