In a very short meeting of the Oklahoma County Board of County Commissioners on Wednesday, two Commissioners voted to award $34 million in CARES money to the Criminal Justice Authority (Jail Trust) for Jail operations. The meeting concluded without allowing public comment.
The original number being discussed up to the meeting was $36 million but for reasons not yet known the number voted on was $34 million.
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Before the meeting, a barricade was placed at least six feet from the horseshoe, intended to prevent protestors from approaching members of the Board. A rumor had it that the barricade was a coronavirus protective measure.
As meeting time approached, District 1 Chief Deputy Joe Blough took the seat of D1 Commissioner Carrie Blumert. Moments later, District 2 Commissioner Brian Maughan seated himself. Promptly at 9:00 a.m. the meeting began.
District 3 County Commissioner Kevin Calvey, Chair of the Board, took advantage of his position to skip formalities that usually take place at the beginning of a meeting and proceeded to agenda item number 22, for the consideration of transferring $36 million of CARES money to the Jail Trust. Protestors assembled in the gallery pleaded for the opportunity to make comment on the issue, but their shouts fell on deaf ears.
As that vote passed 2-1, Blumert joined the meeting, replacing Blough.
Calvey then moved on to recurring agenda items including settling of claims and opening of bids, then returned to the beginning of the agenda to address the consent docket of the agenda. As these items passed quickly, protestors continued to shout down the Board, asking to speak and expressing outrage at the transfer of such a profound amount of money without allowing public input.
After passing the consent agenda, Calvey moved to adjourn the meeting and was seconded by Maughan. Calvey attempted at that time to gavel in the regular meeting of the Public Buildings Authority (PBA), but was required by law to wait until 10 minutes after the hour to begin that meeting. Calvey left the horseshoe to wait out the several minutes in private.
During the intermission, several protestors calmly excoriated Maughan for his complicity in what protestors described as theft of public money.
At 9:10 Calvey returned to the horseshoe and gaveled in the PBA. He immediately moved to adjourn the meeting and was seconded by Maughan. Calvey then left the horseshoe again and waited in private for the protestors to clear before making himself available to the press.
Calvey to the press
Calvey said that the other programs that people want the money spent on are being done by the state.
“The state has 25 times as much CARES money as the County received,” Calvey told the gathered press.
When asked about giving public comment, Calvey said that after two hours of the previous BoCC meeting and over an hour of Monday’s Jail Trust meeting that there has been “ample public comment.”
Several in the media challenged that comment reminding Calvey that the City of Oklahoma City has been handling public comments – both in person and virtually – for some time. His response was that the City had more experience with that than they do.
He went on to say that he doesn’t back down to “bullies,” and made reference to county employees being “traumatized” by the protests of people he, again, called “bullies.”
Blumert made herself available for questions after the meeting, as well.
“I was not expecting that to happen today. My hope was that we could defer the item until the public forum happens this afternoon,” referring to a planned public hearing before the Jail Trust scheduled for 3:00 p.m. on Wednesday.
“My main issue is that the Jail Trust never requested this money. The Trust doesn’t have a plan for this money. It’s very frustrating to be outnumbered and not having a voice.”
When asked if she had heard of county employees being traumatized by the protests and protestors over recent weeks, she said she had not.
Free Press asked Blumert if this sort of handling of public business hurts the Board’s credibility.
“Yes,” Blumert said flatly. “I ran for this position to be transparent and to make this county better. Votes like this continue to show the public why they should not trust us when we shove $36 million through without public input.”
Free Press was able to catch up with two community members, Sean and Cathy Cummings, who came to witness the meeting.
“As all County Commissioners know, the jail is the next place you go,” Sean said, “I hope they make it real nice because they may end up there in a couple of years. When you do something shameful, anymore these protestors know where you live, you don’t really get away. They’ll follow you to your own house.”
Cathy added, “This is a really good example of what NOT to do in county government. Seriously.”
The Board of County Commissioners’ next scheduled meeting is on Wednesday, August 26 at 9:00 a.m.
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