In a tense meeting of the Oklahoma County Budget Board on Thursday, $44 million of CARES Act funds were recommended for spending, including $36 million of those funds being allocated to the Jail Trust. All but the money for the Jail Trust will be considered by the Board of County Commissioners Friday.
Several on the board disagreed with the move to hand over so much money to the Jail Trust without any real accountability and without discussing the needs of the larger community. One was Commissioner Carrie Blumert who voted against the measure.
“We’re just throwing money around now. This is crazy,” said Bumert amid tears after the vote.
The agenda posted Wednesday for the Friday meeting called for the $36M to be considered at the Friday meeting. Then, Thursday sometime after the Budget Board meeting and before the deadline, a new agenda stamped 10:48 a.m. appeared without the $36M.
And, yet, a replacement stamped at 10:55 a.m.* appeared on the county website later also showing that the $36 million for the Jail Trust is not on the agenda. Commissioner Calvey, the current chair, sets the agenda for the meetings.
Calvey or his staff could not be reached for comment by publication time. We will continue to update as new information surfaces. The 24-hour deadline for agenda changes has passed.
The County Budget Board is made up of each of the County’s elected officials, and is a recommending body to the Board of County Commissioners. At Thursday’s meeting all were in place save for County Assessor Larry Stein whose deputy, Mike Morrison, sat in as proxy.
As Chairman Kevin Calvey, District 3 County Commissioner, began the meeting, he requested moving over the first several agenda items to handle the largest item on the agenda. Calvey requested transferring all unaccounted for CARES money to the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority (Jail Trust).
This agenda item departed from a similar one proposed by Calvey at the previous day’s Board of County Commissioners’ meeting, wherein $36 million was requested to reimburse the county for expenditures of the Jail Trust and the Sheriff’s Office related to the Detention Center.
Today’s proposal requested an amount “not to exceed $45.5 million.” In discussion, Calvey edited that amount to exclude the amounts being requested in subsequent agenda items for CARES allocations, coming up with a figure of over $36 million.
Calvey asked the board if there were questions. District 1 County Commissioner Carrie Blumert said, “Yes, there are questions.”
Blumert went on to describe the many needs facing citizens and non-profits and businesses in Oklahoma County who have been negatively affected by the coronavirus.
Calvey’s response was that the duty of the County should be to take care of the core business of the county and that the Jail is the most expensive piece of county business.
County Treasurer Forrest “Butch” Freeman spoke up to oppose the resolution.
“I’m scared to death of this, to be honest!” Freeman said. He read aloud some of the restrictions placed on CARES money and said he wanted advice from the District Attorney’s office. If these funds are mis-appropriated a federal audit could result in a lawsuit against the county and each elected official in their individual capacities.
After some brief discussion Calvey moved to approve the amount and County Clerk David B. Hooten seconded. The resolution passed with only Sheriff P.D. Taylor, Blumert and Freeman voting against.
The following several items were for a total of approximately $8 million in CARES funds.
Those funds will go toward “hero pay” for Jail employees, Juvenile Detention employees, and Sheriff’s Deputies. $3 million in funds were also earmarked for improvements of the jail building.
Each of these items will be voted on finally by the Board of County Commissioners on Friday at 11:30 a.m., along with a controversial resolution clamping down on “free speech activities” on certain county properties.
During this part of the meeting a visibly frustrated Commissioner Blumert said through mounting tears, “We’re just throwing money around now. This is crazy. This is a shame to our citizens.” Blumert then left the meeting abruptly and was replaced by her Chief Deputy Joe Blough.
No More Money
Two more items were briefly heard but ultimately were stricken as the small amounts ($249 and $3,086, respectively) were no longer available in CARES funds. Those funds will have to be found elsewhere now.
The Budget Board meets again on August 20 at 10:00 a.m.
UPDATE: At 3:03 p.m. we discovered yet an even newer update to the agenda with minor changes. The $36M is still not on the agenda.