Oklahoma Teachers Retirement System employees used agency purchase cards for several prohibited or questionable transactions, including the purchase of restaurant gift cards and 25 Kindle Fire tablets that were given away as door prizes, according to a new audit released Wednesday.
Employees also repeatedly failed to maintain proper records of purchases and purchase card transactions, according to the audit conducted by the Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services.
Release of the audit comes less than a month after James Wilbanks was fired as executive director of the Teachers Retirement System after his board of trustees discovered he had failed to obtain required approval from Preston Doerflinger, director of the state Office of Management and Enterprise Services, before granting severance packages to a dozen employees.
The new audit raises additional questions about the retirement system's leadership since Joe Ezzell, the man they appointed to oversee the system's operations until an interim director can be appointed, served as purchase card administrator during the time auditors say purchase card transactions were improperly handled.
Doerflinger, who also serves as a trustee for the Teachers Retirement System, told The Oklahoman on Wednesday night that he is concerned and expects trustees to take prompt action to make sure current and retired teachers can have confidence in the system.
Doerflinger said as a trustee and agency director he has become aware of management issues within the Teachers Retirement System and “it is time for OTRS to move in a different direction as far as leadership.”
“It's very important that we preserve the integrity of this pension system,” he said.
Doerflinger called new questions raised about Ezzell's leadership both “unfortunate” and “problematic.”
“I and my fellow board members will be addressing this very soon in the form of identifying the most appropriate person to lead this organization both in the interim and ultimately in the long term,” he said.
Ezzell did not return a call to his office Wednesday afternoon.
Employees failed to obtain preapproval before using purchase cards to buy 25 Kindle Fire tablets that were given away as door prizes for clients attending retirement seminars presented by the agency, auditors said.
Employees also made prohibited purchases that included 35 catered meals from Running Wild Catering at a cost of $348.25 for an employee meeting, and the purchase of Quiznos Sandwich Restaurants gift cards that were used as retirement seminar door prizes, auditors said.
Auditors also questioned whether employees engaged in split purchasing to get around competitive bidding requirements and to exceed $5,000 single-purchase limits on their cards while buying legislative tracking services from eCapitol LLC and FSM Group.
In their official response, Teachers Retirement System officials denied engaging in split purchasing but said they would bid legislative tracking services in the future. They also defended their use of cards to purchase the catered meal, saying it was for an employee recognition meeting.