In a victory summation largely overshadowed by President Barack Obama’s own re-election nationally, Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel attributed his 2012 re-election to “the professionalism of the sheriff’s office.”
Fast-forward three and a-half years, and the former Choctaw police chief who has been sheriff since 1997 is having his professionalism questioned by a district attorney, at least one judge and many members of the public.
“There is reason to believe that the Oklahoma County sheriff and/or his administrative staff have violated sections of the Oklahoma statutes and articles of the Oklahoma Constitution,” Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater wrote to State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones last week.
Prater, whose office has had to advise and defend Whetsel in numerous lawsuits, requested that Jones’ office audit Whetsel’s department, and he asked that results remain private “because this involves an investigation which could result in criminal charges being filed.”
Also last week, Oklahoma County District Judge Ray C. Elliott lowered the county incarceration rate from the more than $44 per day Whetsel had been charging inmates to $32 per day.
Elliott ruled on the incarceration rate after four hearings on the matter. According to The Oklahoman’s Nolan Clay, Whetsel attended none of them.
Whetsel, meanwhile, contends he and his office have done nothing wrong, and he has been pushing his own narrative about corrections funding. In a March 3 memo, he said his department has a “BUDGET EMERGENCY” in all caps, according to Clay.
Over the past year, the sheriff has also been pushing proposals to build a new county jail because the existing one is overcrowded and fraught with lawsuit-inducing problems.
But with Whetsel now dogged by legal system leaders questioning his ethics and accounting processes, the question becomes whether anyone other than a political welterweight will file to run against him in November. In 2012, Whetsel handily defeated a man named Darrell Sorrels, who had retired from the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Department in 2007, amassed 20 followers on Twitter during his campaign and ran on a platform of protecting the county from the federal government.
Whetsel trounced Sorrels on election day.
Now, the beleaguered sheriff is characterizing Prater’s audit request as having an ulterior motive.
“As you are aware, this is an election year, and the time when crazy political attacks occur,” Whetsel said in a statement released last week.
That’s mighty stigmatizing language from a man who says his jail holds hundreds of inmates per day who have mental health diagnoses.
Will someone with decent name recognition run against Whetsel this time? In a world where term-limited legislators are a dime-a-dozen, it seems likely.
Watching the saga unfold this year should be interesting.
Things we saw (and heard)
Special Report: The final days and deals of Aubrey McClendon — Reuters
American Indian girls fall through the cracks — Pew Charitable Trusts
The horrible, repressive history of book burning in America — New Republic
‘My 4-year-old gets jacked up to target shoot,’ mom brags hours before he shoots her — The Washington Post
The power of engaged citizens in Oklahoma City — Project for Public Spaces
Julie DelCour: The wonderful walk — Tulsa World
Why everyone on TV has the same hair — Racked.com
Quotes to note
Ted Cruz? An inspiration to every kid in America who worries that he’ll never be able to run for President because nobody likes him. He’s running. And look, I told Barack, if you really, really want to remake the Supreme Court, nominate Cruz. Before you know it, you’ll have eight vacancies.
— Vice President Joe Biden in his Gridiron Dinner speech as excerpted by Politico, 3/6/16
I would like to say confidently that we can overcome the Oklahoma education crisis in the near future with current funding sources available, but the reality is there are simply too many pressing priorities — including health care, roads and bridges and public safety — that are competing for a dramatically shrinking pool of revenue due to the economic downturn in oil and gas prices.
— Sen. Brian Crain (R-Tulsa) in a Tulsa World op-ed announcing his support for the one-cent sales tax for Oklahoma education proposed by David Boren, 3/5/16
As the race stands now, with Republicans in charge of both Houses, there is a good chance that my candidacy could lead to the election of Donald Trump or Senator Ted Cruz. That is not a risk I can take in good conscience.
— Michael Bloomberg announcing his decision not to run for president as an independent in 2016. 3/7/16
Highlights from NonDoc
Sanders reawakens Oklahoma’s socialist roots by John Thompson
At SXSW, Obama will find a microcosm of U.S. challenges by Nicole Hill