The Edmond Sun

February 2, 2013

Plan in place for UCO to fund ME's office through bond

James Coburn
The Edmond Sun

EDMOND — An attempt this week to stop the Master Lease program from funding the construction of the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office on the campus of the University of Central Oklahoma failed 4-0 at a meeting of the Council of Bond Oversight, said state Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond.

The council approved the item. The Master Lease program had been approved by the state Legislature last year as well as the State Regents for Higher Education.

“I think you will see either the state bond advisor will take it to the Supreme Court and ask them to assume original jurisdiction and decide on their own whether or not the Master Lease Program is OK to use with constitutional scrutiny,” Jolley said.

UCO is holding off on seeking funds for constructing the ME’s office in order to see if the state will fund the project by other means, Jolley said. Speaker of the House T.W. Shannon told members of the Edmond Area Chamber of Commerce in January that all options for funding the ME’s office should be on the table.

Senate Bill 1337 in 2010 agreed to place the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in close proximity to the UCO Forensic Science Institute and the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation crime lab. Without funds for the move, the ME’s office has remained on the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center campus at 901 N. Stonewall in Oklahoma City.

In addition, the Legislature in May passed funding for the Office of Chief Medical Examiner as part of the general appropriations bill. The budget provides $2.5 million for infrastructure improvements.

The ME’s office lost its accreditation with the National Association of Medical Examiners in 2009 and has fired two chief medical examiners in two years. The association issued a report noting the deficiencies result from an inadequate staff due to a lack of funding. Also, the agency’s equipment and facilities are obsolete, the association’s report stated.

“Sen. Anderson, who has been a longtime foe of the Master Lease program in general, showed up (at the Council of Bond Oversight) along with his law partner as well as Jerry Fent,” Jolley said. Fent is a retired attorney who has previously filed lawsuits against the state, said Jolley, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“They showed up and objected to the constitutionality of the entire program,” Jolley said.

Republican Sen. Patrick Anderson of Enid and Fent disagree with state Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s opinion released two weeks ago that the Master Lease program is a constitutional option for funding the construction of a new ME’s office.

“They also object to the inclusion of the medical examiner being paid for by the Master Lease program at UCO because they think that’s not an appropriate use of the Master Lease Program,” Jolley said.

The only potential event that could prevent Master Lease funding construction of the ME’s office would be if the state Supreme Court rules the program is not a constitutional way of the regents going into bond indebtedness, Jolley said.

“We don’t think that will happen,” he said.

The Medical Examiner’s Office should be built once the $38.5 million in bonds are released, Jolley said. | 341-2121