OKLAHOMA CITY — The state’s new attorney general, Gentner Drummond, has a lot on his agenda after taking the oath of office on Monday.
Native American relations, illegal marijuana growing operations, and openness and transparency in government are “the three big rocks I am 100% focused on,” Drummond told the Tulsa World in an interview Wednesday.
“I believe public records belong to the public,” said Drummond, a Republican.
He said he met with his staff Wednesday morning to work through the records requests in his office, “which are legion, in the next 90 days.”
He took over from Republican John O’Connor, who was appointed by Gov. Kevin Stitt after Mike Hunter abruptly left the position.
“Then I will turn my attention to other state actors and enforce the open records laws irrespective of position, election or appointment,” Drummond said.
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Marijuana: He said he has met with state law enforcement agencies concerning illegal marijuana growing operations. The operations became a big issue after voters legalized medical marijuana in 2018. In a March 7 special election this year, voters will get to decide whether recreational marijuana should be legal in Oklahoma.
“I will lead our state in the enforcement of our laws to drive illegal operators out of the state,” Drummond said. “It will require some additional legislation.”
Tribal relations: Stitt has had a very rocky relationship with the state’s tribes over gaming compacts, hunting and fishing licenses, and implementation of the McGirt ruling. The landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling found that the state of Oklahoma did not have jurisdiction to try tribal members for major crimes committed on certain tribes’ reservations.
Drummond said he has spent more than 80 hours with tribal leaders and attorneys and has more meetings planned.
“It is profoundly important to me to restore this partnership between the tribes and state — show proper respect to our neighbors,” he said.
He said that would include aggressively working to recognize the sovereignty of the tribes and what each group does best.
The state investigates, prosecutes and jails more effectively than any other entity, he said.
He said he hopes an agreement can be reached that the state assumes that role with the appropriate parameters required by each of the tribes.
Government investigations: Drummond said he will also look into the state’s contract with ClassWallet, where the state provided millions of dollars for the vendor to distribute in pandemic relief funds for education.
In a summer audit report, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General was highly critical of the situation, saying Oklahoma may be forced to repay about $635,000 in federal pandemic relief funds that auditors said was misspent by families on noneducation items such as televisions, washers, dryers, air conditioners and Christmas trees.
Then-Education Secretary Ryan Walters, who is now state superintendent, blamed the problems on the vendor, but the audit said Walters declined to use a control that the company offered that would have limited the items available for purchase to only those it had preapproved as education-related.
The state sued ClassWallet, but the lawsuit was never served.
Drummond said he is aware of the litigation and that the papers were never served.
“Frankly, without addressing any matter specifically, I would say I have strong feelings when it comes to protecting tax dollars,” Drummond said. “I will hold accountable any person or vendor who engages in wrongdoing.”
If the suit was filed for political purposes, he will dismiss it, Drummond said. But if it was filed for substantive purposes, he will prosecute it, he said.
He expects to reach a decision before Jan. 30, he said.
Likewise, he is aware of the problems at the Commissioners of the Land Office.
An internal auditor of the agency, which oversees $2.7 billion in real estate and other investments for public schools, was fired after looking into conflict of interest concerns concerning then CLO Secretary Elliot Chambers. Chambers later resigned.
The fired auditor was able to receive back pay plus a lump sum payment of about $25,000 from the state, which was required to pay her attorney $15,000.
“I am aware of the allegations of impropriety and will be engaged in the investigatory process,” Drummond said.
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