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Outgoing lawmaker sues state over open records regarding education funds

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OKLAHOMA CITY — An outgoing state lawmaker on Tuesday sued the state alleging it failed to comply with the Open Records Act concerning questions about spending for an education program.

A recently issued federal audit is highly critical of Gov. Kevin Stitt’s administration’s handling of $31 million intended to provide emergency pandemic relief for Oklahoman’s education needs.

Oklahoma may have to repay about $653,000 auditors said was misspent by families on noneducation items such as televisions, washers and dryers, air conditioners and Christmas trees.

The federal dollars came from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Funds. The Bridge the Gap was largely overseen by Oklahoma Secretary of Education and state superintendent candidate Ryan Walters, both in his official capacity and as executive director of the nonprofit Every Kid Counts Oklahoma.

The state has sued the Florida company the state hired to administer the program.

In a separate suit filed in Oklahoma County District Court, Rep. Logan Phillips, R-Mounds, said he requested the records from the Office of Management and Enterprise Services, Stitt and Walters.

Stitt and Walters have not responded, the suit said.

The suit alleges that a meeting with Office of Management and Enterprise Services Director Steven Harpe and Secretary of State Brian Bingman was held, but no records were produced.

The Office of Management and Enterprise Services offered to produce a laptop, but that was not done, the suit said.

“Indeed, no governmental official has been forthcoming with the requested documents in spite of their representation to the contrary,” the suit alleges.

Phillips is seeking an order saying the agency’s failure to produce the records is unlawful and that the records be made available.

“Production of the requested documents serves the public interest by providing legislative oversight of the manner, method and ultimate expenditure of public funds,” the suit said.

“In this case, given the extreme mismanagement of the GEER funds as documented by the audit performed by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General, it appears that the Defendant is withholding documents in order to prevent a determination of culpability for the malfeasance and to prevent the legislature or other oversight bodies from performing their work in the public interest,” the suit alleges.

Phillips, who lost his reelection bid, held a Capitol news conference to announce the lawsuit. He is represented by Rep. Collin Walke, D-Oklahoma City, who chose not to seek reelection.

If money has to be repaid, it will have to come from legislative appropriations, Phillips said.

“Representative Phillips reached out to meet on this topic in mid-May,” said Caden Cleveland, a spokesman for the Office of Management and Enterprise Services. “After this initial meeting with him, we offered his office two follow up meeting times for him to review the requested documentation. Representative Phillips did not show up for either time made available to his office.”

Kate Vesper, a spokeswoman for Gov. Kevin Stitt, said in a statement: "On his way out the door Rep. Phillips is spreading lies. Our office did respond to his open records request. Additionally, meetings were scheduled with COO Steve Harpe to get Rep. Phillips access to the information he requested but he failed twice to show up for those scheduled meetings."

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