Jones' formal response to the Campaign for Accountability's ORA lawsuit was filed Jan. 17 in the District Court of Oklahoma County in Oklahoma.
OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones has responded through his attorney to an Open Records Act (ORA) lawsuit regarding the Picher buyout filed by a Washington DC watchdog group Campaign for Accountability (CfA).
“The Auditor's response completely vindicates our position and demonstrates why this audit should be released to the public immediately, “ CfA’s Executive Director Daniel Stevens said. “We still have to wait for the AG's response, which should come in today or tomorrow. At that point, we'll have to evaluate their filing and consider how to respond.”
CfA filed the lawsuit against Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter and Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones for failing to release copies of audits and documents related to corruption allegations associated with the management of the Tar Creek Reclamation site in the state.
CfA made the Open Records Act request on Nov. 9, 2017, and the Auditor explained that he wanted to release the records, but had been instructed not to do so by the AG’s office. CfA filed a request for the records directly with the AG’s office on Nov. 14, 2017, which denied the request.
Jones’ formal response to the Campaign for Accountability’s ORA lawsuit was filed Jan. 17 in the District Court of Oklahoma County in Oklahoma.
Through his Oklahoma City attorney Mickey Dodson, Jones responded to CfA’s petition asking the judgment to declare the public’s right to access the requested records in accordance with ORA, and the judge issue a writ ordering Jones to produce the requested records.
Jones’s attorney also requested for judgement that no attorneys fees or costs are awarded against Jones in the case.
The timeline leading to CfA’s lawsuit explains the push and pull to release the requested records.
On April 21, 2011, then Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, now the Director of the EPA, sent a letter to State Auditor Jones requesting that the Auditor’s Office investigate “suspected unlawful contracting practices of the Lead-Impacted Communities Relocation Trust (LICRAT), a Public Trust and Agency of the State of Oklahoma.”
The LICRAT trust was created to oversee the buyout of homes and demolition of vacant homes near Tar Creek of a 40 square mile area in northeast Oklahoma, including Picher contaminated by decades of lead and zinc mining. Concerns about unlawful contracting practices with LICRAT had been brought to the AG’s attention by then U.S. Senator Tom Coburn.
CfA claims in their filing, while conducting the audit, the State Auditor’s office found evidence of criminal wrongdoing at the site. Jones reported his findings to Pruitt, but CfA says, without explanation, Pruitt rejected the findings and declined to bring criminal charges.
Since 2015 the Auditor’s office asked Pruitt to authorize the release of the LICRAT audit pursuant to the Oklahoma Open Records Act (ORA). Pruitt denied the request stating, “our office is concerned about publication of unsubstantiated criminal allegations against private citizens.” The auditor’s office disputed Pruitt’s rationale, stating that they were not aware of “any unsubstantiated claims” and that “the individuals named in the report are members of a public trust or a contractor whose services were retained as part of this substantive project.”
Melinda Stotts is the associate editor of the Miami News-Record. She can be emailed at email@example.com or followed on Twitter @MelindaStotts1.