Incumbent Republican District 2 Oklahoma County Commissioner Brian Maughan and Democratic challenger Spencer Hicks clashed over the county jail, CARES Act money and the county’s SHINE program Thursday night in a debate hosted by NonDoc at the Oklahoma City Farmers Public Market.
Even partner News 9 streamed the debate online.
Maughan is a 12-year incumbent who has played a role in shaping county policy, including most recently the creation of the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority that oversees operations at the jail.
Hicks, a former aide to Gov. Brad Henry, has worked as a standup comic and as a writer. He currently oversees 200 employees as a merchandise manager.
Maughan defends SHINE Program
Maughan created an alternative sentencing program — Start Helping Impacted Neighborhoods Everywhere — in order to offer opportunities for non-violent criminal offenders and volunteers to assist with beautification efforts and other improvements to parks and neighborhoods.
But the program was the subject of an audit and a long investigation over the failure to reimburse the state for equipment use. Ultimately, Maughan was cleared of any wrongdoing, and the $4,800 was reimbursed.
Hicks took aim at the program Thursday, alleging it wasn’t clear if it was operating and that records of its funding sources are hard to come by.
“State Auditor Cindy Bird said he misappropriated $4,800 from the highway fund, and that was against state law,” Hicks said. “This year, the county budget has a line item for $164,000. I called your office to see if the shine program was still running. I was told yes and no. They gave me an number to the County Clerk’s office. They said I’d have to talk to a supervisor. He called me back and said any information you want to know you have to file a Freedom of Information Act request, just to find out how that money was spent.”
Maughan shot back that Hicks’ allegations were wrong.
“I’d like for you to get sentenced to the program and you’d find out if its working or not,” Maughan said. “It is working. It’s working every day at 7’oclock in the morning. You’re welcome to come down and take a SHINE tour. You can meet me in the morning if you want to. We’ll put you to work. That is completely bogus on every step of the level. Did you call any of the judges and ask them? You just want to play cutesy with saying you called somebody.”
Candidates disagree on CARES Act funds
In September, the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority received $34 million in CARES Act funds from the Board of County Commissioners. That move proved to be controversial.
Hicks said the money should have been used for those in the county who most need it. He cited the more than 4,000 eviction notices that have been served in recent months amid the economic turmoil caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic. He also criticized the meeting in which it was decided the money would go to the jail.
“The trust should have gotten some of the CARES Act money, but the way you guys handled that vote was disgusting,” he said. “A 47 second meeting? He skipped the prayer, he skipped the pledge of allegiance, he skipped 20 lines of agenda items and voted to send this money to the trust which didn’t ask for money and didn’t have a list for how it wanted to spend it. Commissioner (Carrie) Blumert wasn’t even seated, and they adjourned. It was an absolutely disgusting sight.”
Maughan defended the decision to send the money to the troubled jail, which has also had problems with COVID 19 mitigation among staff and inmates.
“That was the fourth meeting we’d heard public comment,” Maughan said. “We engaged in many hours of conversations. I’m sorry you didn’t watch the county commissioner meetings and see that. I know you’ve repeatedly continued to say we did this out of the clear blue sky in 45 seconds. We did that for hours and over many days and we discussed it at length. The second thing is we’ve got a COVID problem in the jail. You want to talk about liabilities. You as county commissioner have some of those liabilities. We had a duty and responsibility to respond to this COVID outbreak in the jail, and we took that very seriously.”
Maughan added that the money allocated from county CARES Act funds for people has hardly been used.
Candidates disagree on new jail
Hicks said it’s time to explore the construction of a new county jail given the ongoing problems with the current structure since it opened more than 20 years ago.
Hicks said Maughan has done nothing when it comes to long-term solutions for the building.
“In 12 years, he hasn’t offered any solutions to the jail,” he said. “Right now, the county commissioner can’t raise taxes, but every time the county loses a lawsuit, that comes out of your taxes. The trust is a good idea, but it should be independent.”
Maughan pointed out that the Oklahoma Legislature passed a law ensuring county jail liability remains on the county commission, even when a jail trust is created.
When asked how much a new jail would cost, Hicks said that wouldn’t be up to him.
“It would be up to the trust and what they want,” he said.
Maughan said the idea of passing a tax to fund a new jail is a non-starter with voters.
“Routinely, the chamber has polled this issue, and it’s around 83 percent who are against the tax,” Maughan said. “Sheriff (John) Whetsel, who was a Democrat, testified before the county commission when the jail committee recommended a $300 million jail, he said do not give me this facility unless you give me a permanent tax to go along with it. We can’t talk about a permanent tax, it’s just not going to pass. There is no political will for a forever tax for a jail.”
ICE vote discussed
Last month, the jail trust voted 4-2 to eliminate office space for Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers inside the jail.
But five votes are required for a legitimate vote, according to rules of the trust. Chairwoman Tricia Everest, who was present that day by phone, disconnected from the call prior to voting.
Monday, Maughan supported a measure by District 1 County Commissioner Kevin Calvey that would prevent the trust from barring ICE from using office space at the facility.
Maughan defended that vote Thursday.
“It is a county building, and county commissioners are charged with the responsibility for the building and allowing access to a federal law enforcement agency,” he said. “We certainly expect the jail trust to cooperate with federal law. I (it) thought was proper and really not going that far out on a limb.”
Hicks said the county should be reimbursed for the space.
“If the trust is going to be their own entity, they should make that choice,” he said “It shouldn’t be declared from on high by King Calvey. If it’s up to the commissioners, at least make ICE pay rent if they’re going to take space up in the jail.”
Watch the County Commissioner debate
(Editor’s note: The embedded Facebook video below shows the debate as originally aired. But this News 9 link plays a version of the debate edited afterward to improve audio quality.)
About Oklahoma County Board of Commissioners District 2
The Oklahoma County Commission, which oversees a wide variety of budget and managerial issues for the county, is made up of three commissioners. District 2 covers roughly the southern third of Oklahoma County and includes Bethany, Warr Acres, Choctaw, Harrah and Nicoma Park. Commissioners are elected every four years, and District 2 is the only seat up for grabs this election cycle.