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Meeting held over Oklahoma juvenile center bid clouded by affair

An agency director met Thursday with the leader of the state Senate as part of an investigation into alleged bid rigging involving a multimillion-dollar state contract.

By JOHN ESTUS The Oklahoman & BARBARA HOBEROCK World Capitol Bureau Modified: December 3, 2010 at 8:23 am •  Published: December 3, 2010
p /> Attorney General Drew Edmondson on Thursday declined to investigate a state employee group's allegations that Christian, Coates and Atwood conspired to rig the contract award process so it favored Rite of Passage.

Failed bidders have made similar allegations and announced plans to appeal the award and file Ethics Commission complaints against Coates, Christian and Ben Graves, the architect hired to design the center.

An assistant attorney general said in a letter Thursday to the Oklahoma Public Employees Association that his office had spoken to Department of Central Services Director John Richard about the process used to award the contract and found no problems.

"We are awfully disappointed that a phone call to the selecting agency was all the investigation that they feel is needed," said the association's deputy director, Scott Barger. "If the bid was rigged, how would Richard know? That's incredible."

The group that won the contract, the Ada Youth Academy Authority, defended the process Thursday.

"It's really sad that we would go through this lengthy process only to have it pulled out from under us," said Greg Pierce, chairman of the five-member Ada Youth Academy Authority. "I don't understand how two people having an affair can do this."

Pierce said the Ada group never employed Atwood or had lengthy discussions with Coates about the project.

Pierce said his group would consider rebidding the project, but only if it is for a Rite of Passage-type campus.

"If it's going to be nothing but a hard bed (maximum security) facility, we don't want it," Pierce said.

Rite of Passage operates academic academies that don't lock juvenile offenders up like conventional detention centers do; instead, the academies operate in an academic environment designed to teach inmates life and job skills.

Oklahoman Staff Writer Ann Kelley contributed to this story.