Â©Copyright 2010, The Oklahoman
The wife of Sen. Harry Coates said Monday her husband has told her he is having an affair with lobbyist Haley Atwood. Atwood, 29, who didn't deny the affair with Coates, 60, also is married.
State officials last week announced plans to award a $10 million-a-year state contract for a new juvenile center to the Ada Youth
Rite of Passage earlier this year hired Atwood for consulting work.
Coates, R-Seminole, and Atwood have since been actively involved in helping Rite of Passage and the Ada group secure the juvenile center contract, records and interviews show.
Coates, who also didn't deny the affair with Atwood, said his relationship with the lobbyist didn't influence his decision to get involved in the juvenile center project.
â€œThat's a private issue and has nothing to do with the project,â€ Coates said. â€œThey are totally separate matters.â€
Coates said he supported Rite of Passage because the company takes a unique approach to juvenile corrections by running academies that help juvenile offenders successfully re-
â€œIt's not just another kids' prison. They really do have success,â€ Coates said.
Rite of Passage President S. James Broman said Coates was one of several legislators who supported his company's effort to operate the new juvenile academy.
â€œSen. Coates to me seemed like a dignified man that had a great reputation and was passionate about this project for making kids in Oklahoma better,â€ Broman said.
Broman said his company hired Atwood for consulting and â€œfront end work.â€
He said her involvement in his company's pursuit of the contract was â€œminimalâ€ and that she wasn't hired as a lobbyist.
However, records show Atwood and Coates met several times this year with Office of Juvenile Affairs Director Gene Christian, whose agency oversees state juvenile detention centers and programs.
Christian said last week Coates and Atwood sometimes jointly attended meetings with him about the juvenile center project and spoke in favor of Rite of Passage and the Ada group.
Coates and Atwood also jointly attended at least two early planning meetings with officials in Clinton, who were working on their proposal for the detention center, Clinton Mayor Allen Bryson said.
Bryson said their presence seemed odd, because Coates' legislative district doesn't include any of the cities vying for the project. He said they hired their own lobbyist when they learned Coates and Atwood were meeting with Christian, and Atwood was working for the competition.
Atwood also corresponded with Office of Juvenile Affairs employees about financing and operations for the new center, according to e-mails obtained by The Oklahoman.
Broman, the Rite of Passage president, said he had heard rumors about a romantic affair between Coates and Atwood but didn't know if they were true.
â€œEven if it was true, I just don't see how they could have influenced anything,â€ Broman said. â€œOur proposal consistently scored higher from a group of independent procurement officers than anyone else.â€
Coates and Atwood did not deny having an affair but declined to discuss it. Both said it is â€œirrelevantâ€ to the work they do at the Capitol.
â€œMy personal life just needs to be left at home when I go to work to do my job,â€ Atwood said.
Coates, R-Seminole, had previously denied having an affair with Atwood.
In an August interview with The Oklahoman, Coates said he and Atwood were working together on the juvenile detention center project but denied â€œvicious rumorsâ€ about their affair.
Coates in August said members of the Republican caucus started the rumors because he openly opposed laws dealing with cracking down on illegal immigration.
Atwood's husband, Nick Atwood, 32, is an attorney in Gov. Brad Henry's office. He filed for divorce in July.
Haley Atwood is pregnant and said in a counterclaim to her husband's divorce filing that she is pregnant by her husband.
Coates' wife of 41 years, Betty Coates, said she had an attorney draw up separation papers but hasn't filed them because her husband wouldn't sign them.
Harry Coates said Tuesday: â€œI'm not saying that any kind of relationship outside of your marriage is proper. It's not. I'm not going to admit to anything else here, but obviously you've talked to Betty.â€
Harry Coates was narrowly re-elected this year to his Senate District 28 seat.
His wife was featured on his campaign material, and she actively campaigned for him, not knowing about the affair until he broke the news to her the day after the election, she said.
Haley Atwood gave $170 to his campaign, Ethics Commission records show.
Involvement began early
Coates was brought into the juvenile detention project by Norman architect Ben Graves.
Graves said his firm, Architects in Partnership, and San Francisco-based firm Kmb Architects, are designing the new $27 million campus in Ada for Rite of Passage.
The plan also requires an addition be built to the Central Oklahoma Juvenile Center in Tecumseh to house maximum-security level juveniles.
Architects in Partnership will be designing that alone, he said.
Graves said he asked Coates, his longtime friend, to get involved in the project.
He said he knew the senator would be helpful in â€œchanging the way Oklahoma treats its juvenile offenders.â€
Graves said Coates was so helpful, he thinks the Ada campus should be named after the senator.
Architects in Partnership employed Atwood as a lobbyist for about 10 months, mainly to arrange meetings with state officials for the project, Graves said.
Graves said Coates introduced him to Atwood, but did not ask him to hire her.
Atwood doesn't list Architects in Partnership as a client on her lobbying list with the Ethics Commission. Not listing a lobbying client with the Ethics Commission is a misdemeanor.
Coates paid Architects in Partnership $300 from his campaign in May for a flight to Denver to tour Rite of Passage's academy there, Ethics Commission records show.
Broman said Atwood was with Coates when the senator toured the Colorado academy.
Avalon Correctional Services, the city of Clinton, CMSWillowbrook, Custer City and the Ada Group submitted proposals for the new juvenile center.
Clinton officials say they and others plan to ask that the decision to award the contract to the Ada group be re-evaluated.
Among the concerns they have cited are whether Coates improperly
Christian, the Office of Juvenile Affairs director, last week announced intent to award the contract to the Ada group.
Christian, who said he wasn't involved in the selection process, said the Ada group's proposal scored the highest during a bid evaluation by the Department of Central Services.
But attorney Brent Clark said the project has been a money grab from the beginning. Clark represents the city of Clinton, which was among the five entities that responded to the agency's request for proposals.
â€œThe private and public conduct of these individuals is an abomination,â€ Clark said.
Clark and others said facets of the project were determined from the beginning, giving others no real chance to compete.
â€œThere has been no transparency in this process, and it appears to have been rigged from the beginning in backroom discussions between the OJA director, a lobbyist and a state senator,â€ said Sterling Zearley, executive director of Oklahoma Public Employees Association, a state employee group.
Zearley's group opposes most efforts to privatize state services because they result in fewer state employees.
Christian declined to comment Monday.
Coates said he and Atwood had no influence on the awarding of the contract. He said criticism is coming from groups that are â€œsourâ€ about their failed bids.
â€œThere were no shenanigans that went on with this process,â€ Coates said. â€œI did not attempt to influence in any way other than trying to help us figure out a solution to our adjudicated youth.â€
The city of Ada will sell bonds to finance the $27 million, 144-bed juvenile offender academy campus there.
Rite of Passage will operate the campus, which will house juvenile offenders who already have been in conventional centers and are preparing to integrate back into society.
The center will create about 110 private-sector jobs in Ada, according to a news release from the Ada Jobs Foundation.
No state employees will work there.
The contract also calls for a 56-bed maximum-security detention center to be added to an existing detention center in Tecumseh.
A Pottawatomie County-based authority will partner with the city of Ada to finance an additional $5 million for the Tecumseh center.
State employees will work there.
The Tecumseh center is expected to replace the problematic L.E. Rader Center in Sand Springs, which is expected to close soon.
The contract is to be signed Monday.
The Ada Youth Academy Authority will get $10 million a year to operate the juvenile center.
The new buildings are expected to begin operating in summer 2012.
• 2006: U.S. Department of Justice files a lawsuit against the state Office of Juvenile Affairs alleging civil rights of juvenile inmates at L.E. Rader Center in Sand Springs were being violated because of deplorable conditions and poor management.
• 2008: The Office of Juvenile Affairs
settles lawsuit by agreeing to implement several changes at Rader â€” the state's only maximum-security juvenile detention center.
• Fall 2009: The Office of Juvenile Affairs board begins seeking proposals for a new juvenile center.
• Winter 2009: Office of Juvenile Affairs Director Gene Christian says Rader may have to shut down because of budget cuts.
• 2010: Legislators begin considering asking the Office of Juvenile Affairs to build a new juvenile detention center.
• Spring 2010: Sen. Harry Coates and lobbyist Haley Atwood tour a Rite of Passage juvenile offender academy in Colorado.
• May 27: Legislature passes a bill requiring the Office of Juvenile Affairs to seek requests for proposals for a new juvenile center.
• May 28: Gov. Brad Henry signs bill; Christian and Coates meet in Coates' office.
• June 4-7: Christian tours Rite of Passage academy in Colorado.
• June 7: The Office of Juvenile Affairs issues request for proposals for new juvenile center.
• Aug. 1: The Department of Central Services begins evaluating five proposals for a new juvenile center.
• Aug. 16: Contract award decision expected but is not made.
• Sept. 17: Vendors that submitted proposals for new juvenile center tell the Office of Juvenile Affairs board members they are frustrated no decision has been made.
• Nov. 23: Christian announces intent to award contract for new juvenile center to Ada Youth Academy Authority, which had retained Rite of Passage to operate the center; contract also calls for expansion of an existing juvenile center in Tecumseh to make it suitable for maximum-security juvenile inmates.