A three-member committee representing survivors of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing has written a letter to Gov. Mary Fallin requesting that an upcoming audit of donated bombing funds include an examination of rejected requests for assistance.
“Our allegation is that in addition to denying survivors access to the donations, the treatment by the Oklahoma City Community Foundation staff was designed to discourage people from seeking assistance,” the letter states. “In regards to the audit itself, the allegations are not about misspending. It is nonspending that is the primary complaint among survivors of the bombing.”
The letter was written by three women who identify themselves as the “Survivor Tree Committee” and signed by Deloris Watson, Gloria Chipman and Holly Sweet.
Watson is the grandmother of P.J. Allen, who was in the day care of the Alfred P. Murrah Building and was critically injured in the April 19, 1995, bombing attack that left 168 dead and hundreds injured. Chipman's husband was killed in the attack. Sweet has said she donated money to assist victims.
In addition to Fallin, the letter was addressed to former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating and former Oklahoma City Mayor Ron Norick. Keating and Norick were in office at the time of the bombing.
“The auditors will certainly be made aware of all questions that have been raised ... OCCF has nothing to hide concerning the management, operation, funding or distributions of the Disaster Relief Fund. We will be cooperative and transparent regarding all of the auditors' requests, and in fact look forward to having an independent review,” said Steven C. Davis, Chairman, Oklahoma City Community Foundation Board of Trustees.
More than $40 million in donations flooded into various Oklahoma organizations after the disaster. Much of the money was quickly spent, but about $14.6 million eventually was consolidated into the foundation to provide for the long-term needs of bombing survivors.
The foundation since has distributed about $11.1 million for the benefit of 962 individuals through 16,256 transactions, but still has about $10 million because of interest on investments, officials say.
Some survivors have accused the foundation of being tightfisted with donated funds and of sometimes unjustly rejecting requests for money for education, medical treatment and other assistance. They have called for remaining funds be divvied up among survivors and the fund dissolved.
However, some other survivors have praised the foundation's handling of bombing funds. Nancy Anthony, president of the foundation, has called allegations of wrongful fund request denials “not accurate” or the result of misunderstandings.
Foundation officials announced Nov. 8 they would request an audit to address public concerns.
Survivor Tree Committee members say a simple financial audit won't satisfy their concerns.
“We did not call for an audit,” the letter states. “We requested that Kenneth Feinberg be called to do a study, audit, review of files, conduct town hall meetings, and distribute the monies.”
Feinberg is an attorney popularly referred to as the “pay czar.” He was involved in determining how funds should be distributed among victims of the 9/11 terrorists' attack, BP oil spill and Virginia Tech campus shooting.
If an audit is done, it should address several key issues, committee members state.
“The audit should include all the requests for assistance since the fund was established,” the letter states. “The documentation must include phone conversations, letters of request, letters of assistance, and all denial correspondence be it by phone or written. This form of correspondence needs to include what was paid or how much was denied and for what reason.”
Auditors should be given authority to review all medical files, they state.
Alex Weintz, spokesman for Gov. Fallin, said Wednesday that she had not seen the letter.
“I know she's happy they are doing an independent audit and supportive of that decision,” Weintz said.
Weintz noted that the foundation is private entity and Fallin is not on its board of directors, so she has no official say in how the audit is conducted.
The Oklahoma City Community Foundation is an umbrella organization that administers about 1,300 nonprofit funds with combined assets of more than $632 million. The bombing fund is just one of the funds it administers.
Ziva Branstetter, Tulsa World enterprise editor