Almost one year ago, Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, asked me to assist him in bringing an end to what appeared to be a practice of legalized corruption. Having worked with Jolley on numerous modernization and efficiency measures, I have learned to pay close attention to his concerns. He frequently proposes cost-saving and efficiency reforms, and his proposals are taken seriously by the Legislature. Jolley had received reports from whistleblowers who exposed extremely disturbing abuses and he wanted to work on legislation to stop the practice.
Jolley’s request started an intense one-year saga to remedy one of the worst abuses of the taxpayer dollar that I have seen. That saga continues to this day.
Let me tell you about this horrific abuse known as sole-source specing.
Voters within a school district or municipality approve a massive bond issue calling for the construction of new buildings without realizing they have just contributed to legalized corruption. Flush with cash, the benefiting governing board hires design professionals to specify which materials are to be used in the new project.
The designers present the governing board with grandiose plans that highlight the inclusion of expensive features. It’s all too easy for gullible board members to approve these plans because they are after all spending other peoples’ money. These designers then draw the specifications so tightly that only one supplier can provide the expensive features. In this way, competition is eliminated and the supplier can charge exponentially more than would otherwise be paid because the competitive bidding process has been eliminated. In some cases, the project designer may actually allow the sales engineer for a product manufacturer to write the specification so that only that one product qualifies.
Sole-source specing has long-term implications. Not only do sole speced items cost more in the first place, but the cost can re-occur. For example, a few years ago, the state issued bonds to build a costly new data center. The data center features what appear to be expensive, sole-source speced lighting fixtures that create a futuristic ambiance in the hallways.
Now those lights are going out and need replacing. However, replacing the lights will cost many thousands of dollars and state officials will be forced to simply allow the lights to die. The taxpayers are still on the hook for the bonds and debt interest that paid for the expensive and soon to be non-functioning lights. Payments will continue to be made on the bonds even though the lights soon will be no longer functional.
After engaging in multiple interviews with construction professionals, I have come to the conclusion that sole-source specing appears to be prevalent within Oklahoma government construction contracting. This really hit home as I realized that one of the local House District 31 school districts recently issued a large number of bonds and was participating in sole-source specing. This wasteful and corrupt practice simply had to be stopped.
I was committed to doing whatever I could to assist Sen. Jolley in bringing this to an end. On Feb. 4, Sen. Jolley filed Senate Bill 630 and on Feb. 5, I signed on as the House author of the bill. This bill, if approved, was designed to stop much of the sole specing abuse.
In next week’s article I will describe the effort to win approval for this legislation and the behind-the-scenes story of how special interests are still attempting to preserve the abuse of sole-source specing.
REP. JASON MURPHEY, R-Guthrie, represents House District 31, which encompasses all of Logan County and a portion of northern Edmond. He may be reached via email at email@example.com.