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Contract signing delayed for Oklahoma juvenile center linked to senator-lobbyist affair

The Oklahoma Office of Juvenile Affairs delayed the signing of a contract for new juvenile centers Friday when House Speaker Kris Steele raised concerns about whether the contract is what the Legislature requested last year when it asked for a new juvenile center.
BY JOHN ESTUS and ANN KELLEY Modified: January 12, 2011 at 7:39 am •  Published: January 12, 2011

The multimillion-dollar deal for a new state juvenile detention center linked to a senator and lobbyist's romantic affair has been delayed again.

A planned signing this past Friday of a $10 million-a-year state contract for the juvenile center was called off at the last minute amid concerns from House Speaker Kris Steele.

Steele, R-Shawnee, said Tuesday he asked Office of Juvenile Affairs Director Gene Christian to delay the signing because he is concerned the contract may not fulfill what the Legislature wanted when it asked the agency to build a new juvenile center.

“I'm not accusing anybody of anything, but I do think it's important that I meet with Director Christian and the other interested parties to ensure the contract has been handled appropriately,” Steele said.

Steele said he plans to meet with Christian this week.

The contract has been dogged by criticism since it was revealed that Sen. Harry Coates, 60, and lobbyist Haley Atwood, 29, were having an extramarital affair while working to help clients of Atwood win the contract.

Christian last year announced plans to award the contract to an Ada group working with a private juvenile academy operator and an architecture firm that were clients of Atwood and favored by Coates, R-Seminole.

When Coates and Atwood's affair became public, failed bidders alleged Coates, Atwood and Christian had rigged the bidding to favor the Ada group.

An attorney general's review of the bidding for the contract released this month found the affair couldn't have influenced bidding.

Christian did not return calls and e-mails Tuesday.

Senate Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, launched a Senate investigation into the matter in November and asked the attorney general to review the bidding process used for the contract.

A spokesman for Bingman said Tuesday there are no further plans in the Senate to look into the contract or Coates' actions in the juvenile center matter.

“The speaker, obviously he has some issues he needed to look into, I would imagine similar to just how we needed to look into some from our side, so that's completely understandable,” said Jarred Brejcha, a spokesman for Bingman.

Did it meet intent?

The bill the Legislature passed last year asking the agency to seek bids for a new juvenile center requested a maximum security juvenile center. The agency's request for proposals asked for 56 maximum security beds.

The Ada group's winning proposal called for private juvenile academy operator Rite of Passage to run a 144-bed nonsecure academy in Ada and for the state to add 56 maximum-security beds to an existing juvenile center in Tecumseh.

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