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Signing of contract tied to Oklahoma senator-lobbyist affair delayed

The Office of Juvenile Affairs accepted a request from Oklahoma Senate leaders to delay the signing of a contract for new juvenile centers after allegations that a senator and lobbyist who are having an extramarital affair played a role in the contract bidding process.
BY JOHN ESTUS and ANN KELLEY Modified: December 7, 2010 at 9:30 am •  Published: December 4, 2010

Coates and Atwood have denied wrongdoing in the juvenile center project. They declined again Friday to discuss their relationship, saying only that it did not influence their work on the juvenile project.

Meanwhile, the city of Clinton on Thursday mailed a formal ethics complaint against Christian to the state Ethics Commission.

Christian declined to comment Friday.

The city also mailed a complaint against Ben Graves, an architect working on the juvenile center project, to the Oklahoma Board of Architects, Landscape Architects and Interior Designers.

The complaint against Graves alleges he was named as Clinton's architect for the project, until it became apparent he was working for Ada, too.

It states at the time, Graves told Clinton officials there was no conflict of interest because the Ada project was completely different from Clinton's.

“That's fine. I can defend it. I didn't break any laws,” Graves said.

Clinton Mayor Allen Bryson said they considered filing an ethics complaint against Coates but decided to let his peers in the Senate “make that call.”

Bidder says request not met

The statute legislators approved earlier this year calling for a new juvenile center requested secure beds.

The request for proposals for the new center asked for 56 maximum-security beds.

The Rite of Passage academy would have no secure beds.

Instead, it would have 144 unsecured beds in a campuslike setting.

The winning bidder also proposed adding 56 maximum-security beds to an existing juvenile center on state land in Tecumseh, which never made a bid for the project.

Failed bidders say the Rite of Passage academy isn't what the agency requested and that they were never told state land could be used.

“To be fair, if you want that you've got to put that out for bid and let people bid on that,” Costello said.

“The fact is that the director, Gene Christian, for a long time now has obviously wanted to have an academy modeled after the Rite of Passage facility in Colorado. He's made that comment to numerous people before, after and during the RFP process — including us.”

Costello said Avalon officials plan to meet with those conducting the Senate investigation to explain why they think the bid process was unfair.

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