Funding for new Oklahoma medical examiner's headquarters in Edmond at risk

BY MICHAEL MCNUTT Published: May 14, 2012

“In two weeks we'll know if there's money appropriated and sometime within the next two months we either will or won't have clarity on the attorney genera's opinion.”

The medical examiner's office lost its accreditation with the National Association of Medical Examiners in 2009 in large part because of the condition of its Oklahoma City headquarters and a poor working environment.

A special audit in March 2010 stated the agency's 30-year-old building near the University of Oklahoma Medical Center lacked sufficient space for staff and agency operations. UCO is donating the land.

“The financing deal is the trick,” Kreidler said. “The state's been unable to pull that trigger for several years. It's a darned shame they lost their accreditation when the state budget was going into the tank.”

No funding provided

In 2010, the Legislature approved moving the office to Edmond but provided no funding.

Legislators were cutting state agency funding in 2010 and 2011 because of declining state revenues caused largely by the national recession.

The Senate last year passed a measure that would authorize a $42 million bond issue for the medical examiner's office to build and equip a new building, but the bill didn't get a hearing in the House.

This year, UCO proposed selling bonds through the state regents' master lease real property program to build a headquarters for the state medical examiner's office on its Edmond campus.

The program is traditionally used for building classrooms and housing units, as well as renovating buildings and other projects on college campuses.

Plans call for the new medical examiner's office to be near the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation's forensic laboratory and UCO's nationally recognized funeral science program.

The medical examiner's office building and 32 other projects on the master lease real property program are on hold pending the attorney general's opinion. The projects total about $150 million and include new buildings at Cameron University in Lawton, Murray State College in Tishomingo, Northeastern State University at Tahlequah and at UCO.

“I believe there are some fundamental flaws in the manner in which the master lease programs have been established and are operated that make them unconstitutional,” Anderson said.

“The amount of debt being proposed in the real property program has increased exponentially over the last few years,” he said. “While not all requested programs are funded, there appears to be no maximum limit to the cumulative total of the debt that is being incurred under this program. This is not right or fiscally responsible of the Legislature to allow this to continue.”

Anderson said the master lease real property program and the master lease personal property program, which allows colleges and universities to seek bond issues to pay for copiers, computers and other equipment, should be reviewed by legislators.

Jolley said items in the master lease programs the last two years come under a hearing by a Senate budget subcommittee, and all senators are invited to attend.

Second attempt

This is the second attempt to derail the plan to fund the medical examiner's building through the master lease real property program.

Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, earlier this year filed a resolution with the House budget committee seeking to disapprove the medical examiner's office from being funded through the master lease real property program.

Murphey said he didn't oppose the project but questioned financing it through the program.

The committee voted 11-1 against the resolution.

“The medical examiner's office has lost accreditation, and it will not be getting its accreditation back until they have a new facility and they have enough adequate personnel inside of that facility to operate,” Jolley said.

“On every murder trial in the state of Oklahoma when the medical examiner's office presents testimony on behalf of the dead on how they died, the first question a defense lawyer is going to ask is, ‘You're telling us this is how the dead was murdered, but you don't even have your accreditation, so how can we trust anything you say?'” Jolley said.

“That is an incredible part of this discussion that's getting lost.”

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