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Private club dinner, law change are latest in juvenile contract dispute

Oklahoma Office of Juvenile Affairs leaders dined at a private club with a group vying for a multimillion-dollar state contract while officials worked to change state law so the group could do business here.
BY JOHN ESTUS and ANN KELLEY Modified: December 9, 2010 at 6:03 am •  Published: December 9, 2010

State agency leaders dined at a private club with a group vying for a multimillion-dollar state contract the night before the group and other future bidders pitched their proposals to the agency's board.

The April 15 dinner meeting came while Office of Juvenile Affairs officials were working to change state law so a company that is part of the group could work with the agency, records obtained by The Oklahoman show.

The group dining with agency officials included officials from Ada and private juvenile academy operator Rite of Passage.

Together, they made a successful joint bid for the agency's juvenile center contract that has since fallen under scrutiny.

The group also was working with lobbyist Haley Atwood, 29, who has had an extramarital affair with state Sen. Harry Coates, 60.

Their romance has factored into scrutiny of the bid the group made because Atwood and Coates, R-Seminole, supported it.

Failed bidders have alleged Office of Juvenile Affairs Director Gene Christian, Atwood and Coates rigged the bidding process to favor the Ada group and Rite of Passage.

Christian, Atwood and Coates have denied wrongdoing.

The contract signing between the Ada group and Office of Juvenile Affairs was set for this past Monday, but has been delayed a month so the attorney general's office can review the bidding process.

Senate leaders asked for the review.

Meals, visits

Christian and his chief of staff ate dinner with Rite of Passage President S. James Broman at the Petroleum Club in downtown Oklahoma City the night before Rite of Passage and other bidders made their proposals to the agency's board, records show.

Also dining with them was Steve Turner, chairman of the committee that organized Ada's proposal for the juvenile academy and a vice president at East Central University in Ada.

Turner called the dinner a “meet and greet,” and he said everyone paid for themselves.

Turner said Office of Juvenile Affairs board member Ed Smith also attended the dinner meeting at Petroleum Club.

Christian said there was nothing inappropriate about the meeting. He described it as an opportunity to learn more about Rite of Passage.

Clinton Mayor Allen Bryson, whose city made a failed bid for the juvenile center contract, said his group met twice with Christian but never in a social setting.

“We never went to the Petroleum Club — I'm brokenhearted,” Bryson said. “And without reservation, I can say we were never invited to a meet and greet with Mr. Christian.”

Christian toured a Rite of Passage academy in Colorado in January.

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