The association that oversees high school athletics in Oklahoma has agreed to stop providing free playoff passes to state legislators.
It also has agreed to pay $1,200 in civil penalties to the state for not disclosing the gifts to the Oklahoma Ethics Commission the last three years.
The Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association was not trying to influence legislators or legislation, its executive director said.
“OSSAA provided playoff passes to any legislator who requested them each school year so that they could be better informed about our activities,” the executive director, Ed Sheakley, said in a news release Friday
The OSSAA is taking the steps to settle an Ethics Commission investigation into its failure to disclose the ticket giveaways.
Ethics commissioners voted 5-0 on Friday to approve the settlement agreement.
Commissioners voted March 14 to investigate the association amid alleged violations of lobbying disclosure rules.
Commissioners acted after The Oklahoman reported March 9 that the OSSAA has provided free football and basketball playoff tickets to legislators for years.
The OSSAA never reported those gifts to the Ethics Commission even though it was required to disclose the gifts once it started using lobbyists.
In the settlement agreement, the Ethics Commission called the failure nonwillful.
The OSSAA first hired lobbyists early in 2011.
The association oversees extracurricular activities for nearly every public school in Oklahoma for grades seven through 12. It makes decisions on the makeup of athletic districts, playoffs and student transfers and eligibility.
The investigation came at the same time the association has been under fire both at the Capitol and in the courts. Critics say it has acted arrogantly, arbitrarily and capriciously in enforcing its rules.
The association continues to blame its two previous lobbyists for the disclosure failure. Sheakley said he asked the lobbyists in 2011 to check with the Ethics Commission to see “if there was a problem continuing with this practice.”
Both lobbyists, Vickie White Rankin and Terry Ingmire, dispute that. They have said they didn’t even know the OSSAA gave away free tickets.
The two worked for the association in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
In a news release, the association said it will change its policy in June to remove the language permitting passes to be distributed to legislators and certain state employees.
Sheakley said Friday that the practice of providing playoff passes to legislators was going to have to end anyway next year because of new Ethics Commission rules. The new rules go into effect in January.
The association also has agreed it will not give “any other thing of value” to legislators, state officers or state employees for three years.
The OSSAA acknowledged in the settlement agreement that it should have provided written accounts to its lobbyists so the lobbyists could make the proper twice-a-year disclosures about the giveaways to the Ethics Commission.
It agreed to pay a $200 civil penalty for each disclosure failure over the past three years.
The OSSAA stated in the news release that it kept each written request from legislators and that it has provided this information to the Ethics Commission for the past three years.
The OSSAA gave out up to two passes per legislator upon written request.
Over the last three school years, the OSSAA gave out more than 230 passes to legislators, according to records it released to The Oklahoman.
Reform legislation requiring the OSSAA to have written policies consistent with the Open Records Act and Open Meeting Act is now in limbo at the state Capitol. The bill’s author, Rep. Bobby Cleveland, R-Slaughterville, said he has had difficulty getting it heard again in the House.
“We’re down to the last few days, and I still don’t know if it will be on the agenda,” Cleveland said.
The bill also would require the association to have a performance audit completed every five years.