Oklahoma Corrections Department Director Justin Jones and board member Steve Burrage publicly clashed Thursday over whether staff members have been open with board members and state officials in discussing $22 million in three agency revolving funds.
“We were very transparent about it,” Jones told board members, citing reports given to the governor and legislative officials during the budgeting process.
“The transparency is there. Could it be better? Absolutely.”
Burrage challenged Jones' claim of transparency.
“I do not agree with his saying that we have transparency as it relates to our revolving funds, and that is my personal opinion,” said Burrage, a former state auditor and chairman of the Corrections Department's budget committee.
Burrage said it took him “several requests” to obtain specific information from staff members regarding beginning balances, receipts and disbursements from the three funds.
The revolving funds have become a point of contention between Corrections Department staff members, Burrage, the governor and legislative leaders because the department had a pending legislative request for a $6.4 million supplemental appropriation at the same time it had $22 million in the three agency revolving accounts.
Jones withdrew the supplemental funding request earlier this month after Burrage discussed with him that the situation wouldn't look good.
The request for a supplemental appropriation came as the result of a board vote. Both Jones and Burrage told other board members Thursday they wanted to apologize if it was out-of-line for Jones to withdraw the request without another vote of the full board.
Tempers flared a short time later when board Chairwoman Linda Neal invited attorney Robert Lee Rainey, a former board member and former budget committee chairman, to appear before the board to discuss revolving accounts and transparency issues.
Rainey said he was “surprised and alarmed and disappointed” to read an article in The Oklahoman that quoted Burrage as expressing concerns about whether the department has been transparent enough in making the public aware of the large balances in the revolving funds.
“It violates every number of probably a dozen or more standard operating procedures that govern this board,” Rainey said.
Burrage wanted Rainey to back up his comment.
“Would you enumerate about that comment on what I violated or what anybody violated?” Burrage said. “You said that we violated at least 12 operating procedures of this board. ... I was just trying to bring forth what I feel is adequate disclosure of our finances.”
Rainey read from a statement of board operating policies and procedures that said “inquiries regarding DOC's operations, actions or policies received by board members from the public, employees or offenders will be referred to the director or designee for response.”
If the inquiries are of a nature that it would be inappropriate for the director to respond, they should be referred to the board chair, he quoted the policy as saying.
Burrage said he was responding to a request from the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
“If I'm wrong in doing that, then I apologize,” he said. “But if I'm asked again, I will respond again.”
Neal cut off further discussions, citing the lateness of the hour.
“As a board, we all have got to go back to these policies and procedures and tighten that back up,” Neal said.
Burrage said later that he doesn't believe he violated any statute and believes legislators, the governor and the public have the right to be fully informed about Corrections Department finances.
An agenda item calling for a budget update was postponed by the board.
Jones and Burrage said the agency is working to revise the way it reports financial information to be more transparent.
Rainey read from a 2008 outside report that blamed the Legislature for creating a system that required the agency to juggle funds in revolving accounts.
The Legislature “established a practice of intentionally providing only partial-year funding for the department using a supplemental appropriation late in the fiscal year to supply the rest,” the report said.
“Without a realistic approved spending plan, the Legislature cannot hold the department accountable for complying with its budget allocation and priorities. Instead, DOC must juggle funding in available accounts to address its needs. The present system of ongoing supplemental funding is not effective public policy.”