(Update: This story was updated at 9:45 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 2, after subpoenas were withdrawn and people in question were announced as being voluntarily cooperative.)
Thursday, the House of Representative’s new Special Investigative Committee sent subpoenas to the acting director of the Oklahoma Management and Enterprise Services agency, Oklahoma’s secretary of finance and Gov. Mary Fallin’s chief of staff.
But Friday, the committee’s chairman, Rep. Josh Cockroft (R-Wanette) announced that the three state employees have agreed to cooperate and that subpoenas have been withdrawn.
Denise Northrup, Preston Doerflinger and Chris Benge were “commanded to appear” before the committee Dec. 19, 20 and 21, respectively. Each individual was sent a request to provide 10 documents and written answers for 39 questions, but now Cockroft said those documents and written answers will not necessarily be required.
“They have been asked to bring as much documentation as they can that was originally requested,” he said. “If there isn’t cooperation, the committee can continue with the original subpoenas. The committee’s every desire, though, and what has been communicated to us by each individual is to have full communication and cooperation from all sides.”
Some questions in the original subpoenas appeared straightforward: “When were you first told that the Department of Health needed additional funding?” Others are far more open-ended: “Did you or anyone affiliated with the executive branch (…) have any discussions with any member of any state board in the last six months?” (If answering “yes,” respondents are requested to detail the discussions.)
The requests for documents included any and all communications between Northrup, Doerflinger and Benge and a slew of people on a slew of topics, including revenue measures, state agency mismanagement, the Department of Health, the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust and any rally planned for the Capitol. Time frames range from the past three to five years. (Subpoenas embedded below.)
Friday, Cockroft noted that the committee is also reaching out to former Health Department leaders Terry Cline and Julie Cox-Kain about whether they are willing to participate with the committee.
‘It is inexcusable’
Thursday’s move from House leadership was the latest in a string of back-and-forth political postures between Oklahoma’s executive and legislative branches. Fallin vetoed much of the revised budget bill that lawmakers sent her on Nov. 17 to close out special session, and she said last week that she would be announcing the date of a second special session soon.
The House’s Special Investigative Committee was announced Nov. 20 and specifically mentioned the scandal at the Oklahoma State Department of Health, which is already being investigated for potential criminal activity.
“The mismanagement of more than $30 million in taxpayer dollars is incredibly frustrating for citizens and the members of the Oklahoma House of Representatives,” Cockroft said in the House’s Thursday press release. “It is inexcusable. Our constituents want answers, and we intend to find out how and why this happened. This is not a criminal investigation. Those are being handled by our law enforcement entities. But the Legislature has the sole authority and responsibility to appropriate taxpayer dollars, and we intend to make sure that is being done according to the law and for the intended purposes that those funds were appropriated.”
Fallin replied in a press release of her own, noting that her staff needs to consider the ramifications of providing the requested information while criminal investigations are ongoing.
“Since my office has just received this subpoena, we need time to properly review and respond to it. We further need to determine that providing the relevant information requested does not interfere with the investigations by the attorney general and the state auditor and inspector,” Fallin said in her statement. “As I stated on Oct. 30, my office has enlisted the help of the fiscal staff of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services, the state attorney general’s office and the office of the state auditor and inspector to look into the matter to immediately investigate and bring forth clarity to the situation and offer solutions to ensure proper fiscal management of the Oklahoma State Department of Health. Legislative leaders have been briefed about the situation.”
Friday, she sent another statement about the withdrawal of the subpoenas.
“All officials in the executive branch and agencies are happy to voluntarily assist the Oklahoma House Special Committee. It is also important that the House committee confers with the attorney general and the state auditor and inspector who have already begun looking into the Health Department 30 days ago,” Fallin said. “I am pleased this matter could be resolved professionally and amicably. This will bring all of us to focus and exert our energy and attention on developing a long-term, predictable solution to fix our budget, fund core services, and provide a teacher pay raise.”