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Oklahoma County district attorney initiates Workers' Compensation Commission investigation

The Oklahoma County district attorney’s office has initiated an investigation into possible Open Meeting Act violations by the new, three-member Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Commission.
by Randy Ellis Modified: July 24, 2014 at 11:00 am •  Published: July 23, 2014

The Oklahoma County district attorney’s office has initiated an investigation into possible Open Meeting Act violations by the new, three-member Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Commission.

District Attorney David Prater confirmed the investigation Wednesday — one day after Commissioner Denise Engle issued a news release questioning the way the commission has been conducting some of its business.

Meanwhile, Commission Chairman Troy Wilson issued a statement late Wednesday saying he was rescinding the bid process for the agency’s electronic data interchange system and starting over because of questions that have been raised.

All three commissioners pledged to cooperate fully with the investigation.

Wilson said he was surprised by Engle’s complaints.

“Everything we’ve done has been absolutely, certainly with the goal of being transparent and open,” Wilson said. “We’ve been forthright. ... I didn’t know about her concerns here, to tell you the truth.”

In Engle’s news release, she said the commission chairman and executive director had unilaterally taken actions on matters that were inaccurately referenced in commission minutes as being actions of the commission.

“Such actions by the chairman, although done on behalf of and in the name of the Workers’ Compensation Commission, are not necessarily the actions of the commission as a body,” Engle wrote.

“In several cases, matters are referenced in the minutes of the commission which do not reflect an action of the body, but rather an action of the chairman or of the executive director.”

Engle said she plans to ask for revisions to the minutes.

Engle also reported that a potential vendor made a presentation to commissioners in a closed-door meeting, over her objections.

“When the executive director of the commission suggested a meeting with a potential vendor, I asked that it be held as a public meeting,” she said. “This request was ignored.”

Engle said she attended the meeting after the commission’s executive director told her public notice was not required.

There is disagreement as to whether the law requires such a meeting to be open to the public.

Commission Executive Director Rick Farmer and Chairman Wilson both told The Oklahoman they were advised by their general counsel, Assistant Attorney General Ted Rossier, that it was appropriate to listen to the presentation in a closed meeting.

The reason the informational meeting was closed was because proprietary information was discussed by the potential vendor, Wilson and Farmer said, adding that commissioners were required to sign non-disclosure agreements.

Rossier attended the presentation, they said.

Wilson said he is not allowed to publicly identify the vendor, which is seeking a contract to provide electronic data interchange services that would allow workers’ compensation insurers to electronically file reports of on-the-job injuries.

Rossier was on vacation Wednesday and could not be reached for comment, officials said.

The general counsel’s purported advice to the commission was contrary to advice given by employees of the state Office of Management and Enterprise Services, which facilitates competitive bidding for state agencies.

OMES staff members cautioned commission employees prior to the vendor meeting that allowing commissioners to attend a closed meeting with the vendor might violate the Open Meeting Act, according to emails obtained Wednesday by The Oklahoman.

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by Randy Ellis
Investigative Reporter
For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two...
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