OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs can’t pay its bills because Gov. Kevin Stitt’s Cabinet secretary won’t sign off on them, the agency’s head said.
Joel Kintsel, Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs executive director, sent lawmakers and commissioners an email on Tuesday concerning the matter.
The agency has gone two weeks without having its pending expenditures approved by Secretary of Military and Veterans Affairs John Nash, Kintsel wrote, characterizing the situation as a “serious problem.”
“If this situation persists, we will soon be unable to provide the basic supplies and resources needed to operate the agency and specifically, to provide for the veterans under our care in the seven veterans homes,” Kintsel wrote.
“Please note that this is happening as a consequence of my decision to run for Governor and is clearly intended as retaliation on the part of the Governor through his agent, the Secretary of Military and Veterans Affairs, Jonathan Nash.”
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Stitt defeated Kintsel in June’s Republican primary.
The governor has been replacing members of the Veterans Affairs Commission who voted to give Kintsel a leave of absence to run against him.
Kintsel said Stitt’s replacement of commissioners is an effort to influence the panel’s decision regarding his continued employment. The panel hires and fires the executive director.
He said an executive order issued by Stitt requires Cabinet secretaries to sign off on purchases over $25,000. That executive order is unlawful, he said, because the state’s Central Purchasing Act governs purchasing processes and approvals for agency purchases.
Kintsel said Nash is attempting to run the agency, but he said there is no lawful method for the secretary to do so.
Nash declined a request for an interview, but Stitt’s office said Kintsel has not responded to Nash’s request to make staff available to go over the purchases.
“That is not how it works,” Kintsel said.
He said he repeatedly told Nash to go through him or the deputy director and not individual staff members when seeking information.
He also said Nash is working to undermine him.
Purchases on hold include $558,284.36 for the licensing of medical and financial software used at the seven veterans centers; $156,336 for the annual lease payment for the central office; $56,700 in tuition payments on behalf of the agency for employee educational expenses related to employment; $35,280 for software licensing for vital-signs equipment at the veterans centers; $29,930 for equipment at the Ardmore Veterans Cemetery; and $27,500 for the final inspection of the Ardmore Veterans Cemetery.
“If the situation continues to deteriorate, legal action may become necessary,” Kintsel said in his email.
Meanwhile, two former members of the commission that Stitt replaced have filed suit, alleging their First Amendment right to support Kintsel’s gubernatorial bid was violated by Stitt. The suit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma.
A second suit alleges that Stitt did not follow the law when he recently appointed Robert W. Allen Jr. to the panel. That suit was filed in Oklahoma County District Court.