OKLAHOMA CITY — The state’s attorney general has requested an investigative audit of the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority amid questions and concerns about a massive toll road expansion across the state.
In a Wednesday letter to State Auditor and Inspector Cindy Byrd, Attorney General Gentner Drummond said he has heard from numerous Oklahomans who are concerned about the authority’s operations.
“I have had many conversations over the past few months with legislators, community leaders, private citizens and state employees who have expressed a wide array of concerns with the financial conduct of the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority (‘OTA’),” Drummond wrote in the letter. “These concerns include but are not limited to improper transfers between the OTA and the Department of Transportation; improper contracting and purchasing practices; and inadequate internal financial controls.”
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Turnpike Authority Executive Director Tim Gatz said he welcomes the scrutiny and will cooperate with any requests from the State Auditor’s Office.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Gatz said he had not spoken to Drummond about the audit. The Turnpike Authority operates in an open and transparent manner, he said.
“Hopefully, this helps us clear up some of the confusion and misunderstanding and maybe misinformation that’s out there,” Gatz said. “The Turnpike Authority’s operation is well-run and well-managed.”
In his letter, Drummond also cited a Cleveland County district judge’s ruling that the Turnpike Authority “willfully” violated the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act when it posted meeting agendas that lacked details on a $5 billion, 15-year turnpike expansion plan.
Drummond said the violation is troubling.
“Such a blatant disregard for openness and transparency suggests to me a willingness to engage in any manner of unlawful conduct,” he wrote.
Gatz said he thinks the Turnpike Authority has acted in compliance with the Open Meeting Act. The authority has appealed the judge’s ruling, he added.
Two other lawsuits regarding the turnpike expansion plan are pending.
A spokesman for Byrd said she received Drummond’s request.
The investigative audit will go beyond the annual audits of the Turnpike Authority’s financial statements that are required by law and conducted by independent certified public accountants.
This will be the first time the Auditor’s Office has conducted an audit of the Turnpike Authority. Gatz said there’s no requirement in law for the quasi-governmental agency to be periodically audited by the Auditor’s Office.
“I don’t believe that’s something the Turnpike Authority has ever been averse to. It’s just never been done,” Gatz said.
The $5 billion, 15-year ACCESS Oklahoma turnpike expansion plan has stirred pushback in some places where new turnpikes could be built. Much of the opposition has come from Norman-area residents who oppose new turnpikes being built near that city.
Gov. Kevin Stitt has praised the turnpike expansion plan.
Former Democratic gubernatorial candidate and former State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister vowed to request an audit of the Turnpike Authority if she defeated Stitt in last year’s election. Some of her key staffers from the State Department of Education now work in Drummond’s office.
Two state lawmakers have tried and failed to request an audit of the Turnpike Authority through the legislative process.
The ACCESS Oklahoma proposal includes plans to widen the Turner and Will Rogers turnpikes in addition to improvements on the Gilcrease and Creek toll roads.
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