Oklahoma Public Employees Association calls for investigation into Dept. of Tourism

The entry way for Oklahoma's departments of Commerce and Tourism. (KOKH).JPG

The Oklahoma Public Employees Association is calling for a state investigation into the Oklahoma Department of Tourism following a multiple-part FOX 25 Investigation.

“The employees of the Tourism and Recreation Department, citizens who enjoy visiting Oklahoma’s state parks and taxpayers who help fund the agency deserve to know that this agency is following the law. On behalf of our members, we have asked the attorney general, the Oklahoma County district attorney and the House’s Investigation Committee to look in to the tourism department,” said Sterling Zearley, OPEA executive director in a news release. “Based on what we hear from our members and what was brought to light during the television series, a full investigation is certainly appropriate.”

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FOX 25 revealed problems beginning with the Executive Director admitting to the agency misusing the clearing account to make settlement payments to employees. The director also told commissioners that lax policies led instances where money was embezzled from state parks.

The U.S. Department of Labor confirmed to FOX 25 it was investigating Tourism practices at Roman Nose State Park following findings by the formal internal auditor that found time clocks were coded to remove 30 minutes from employee time regardless of whether or not they took a lunch break.

The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms told FOX 25 it responded after discovering the Department of Tourism had manufactured short-barrel shotguns in violation of the National Firearms Act. The agency dismantled the guns at the request of the ATF and eventually traded them in for legal firearms.

FOX 25 also revealed that the agency holds private meetings on the phone with commissioners prior to public meetings. These phone calls are designed to get around the state’s Open Meeting Act because they do not contain a majority of commission members.

The general counsel for the Department of Tourism sent FOX 25 a notarized statement following our report saying that no votes were taken during these phone calls and no votes were arranged prior to the public meetings. However, this information cannot be verified because it happened outside the public meetings and there is no written record that has been provided of these pre-meeting meetings.

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“Oklahomans deserve to know if the agency disregarded merit protection commission and district court orders pertaining to the treatment of tourism employees,” he said. OPEA also has concerns about agency open records violations, the handling of a State Auditor and Inspector’s report and a federal Department of Labor investigation.

The OPEA also requested the Oklahoma County District Attorney and the House Special Investigation Committee look into the issues raised in the FOX 25 reports.

Members of the House Special Investigation Committee have told FOX 25 the agency will be added to the committee’s work after their current investigation into the Department of Health.

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