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
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Failed bidders have alleged the Rite of Passage academy isn't what was asked for by the Legislature.

“I would just like some assurance that the contract was indeed in compliance with legislative intent,” Steele said Tuesday.

Atwood began working with Rite of Passage last year. She is now a registered lobbyist for the Nevada-based company, Ethics Commission records show.

Atwood, Coates and Office of Juvenile Affairs officials worked closely last year to change state law so Rite of Passage could legally work with the agency, records show.

Failed bidders have pointed to the law change and visits made by Coates, Atwood and Christian to a Rite of Passage academy in Colorado as proof the three inappropriately favored the Ada group.

Records show the Ada community made a substantial investment toward the juvenile center project before it was publicly announced who was to receive the juvenile center contract.

The Ada Industrial Development Corporation in early November paid $490,000 for about 64 acres northwest of Ada near State Highway 99. The land was for the Rite of Passage academy's campus and was purchased about two weeks before it was announced that the Ada group would be awarded the juvenile center contract.

The development corporation is a nonprofit that works on economic development projects in Ada.

Signing secretive

Friday's planned signing was not publicly announced, and the Office of Juvenile Affairs has refused to release information about it when asked.

Greg Pierce, chairman of the Ada Youth Academy Authority, said Office of Juvenile Affairs officials last week told his group not to speak to reporters about the signing.

Pierce confirmed officials with the Ada group were on their way to sign the contract Friday when Christian called and told them the signing had been delayed.

“I'm confident that it's not an issue of anything that we've done or haven't done properly,” Pierce said. “We're still very hopeful the project will be built here.”

Coates said he suspects the signing was delayed because private prison companies whose bids were rejected are making a “last ditch effort” to get the deal killed so they can make another bid for the lucrative contract.

“This is the weirdest deal ever,” Coates said.

Officials from private prison operator Avalon Correctional Services, which lost its bid for the contract and plans to appeal the award to the Ada group, said they weren't aware a contract signing was set for Friday.

Officials from another failed bidder, the city of Clinton, also said they were not aware of the planned signing.

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