Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Conservative View: The Black Hole

This week's Conservative View, by Adair County Commissioner Russell Turner (R-Stilwell).
The Conservative View
by Russell Turner

The Black Hole

I have always had an interest in science and astronomy. The study of our universe and the dynamics involved should be of interest to anyone who wants to see the bigger picture of our existence, one of the most intriguing phenomena is that of a black hole. A black hole has such a strong gravitational pull that even light cannot escape its grip. Whatever goes into it is lost forever and it will never be seen again, that scenario is very similar to the way private attorneys are paid to work for state departments in Oklahoma.

Senate Bill 1379, by State Rep. Mark McCullough and State Sen. Anthony Sykes, would have created the Private Attorney Retention Sunshine Act and would have required state agencies hiring private attorneys to use a competitive, public process anytime the contracts are greater than $5,000. Unfortunately SB 1379 did not receive a final vote in the just completed session of the State Legislature. In other state and local agencies there are laws in place that require competitive bidding if the expenditure to any one vendor goes above a certain amount. The bids are a part of public record and are available for anyone to look at them. Often the agencies that have to solicit the bids consider the process a hassle, but we all need to remember that the money being spent belongs to the people. Anytime the public cannot have full access to the expenditure of taxpayer funds there is always the temptation to abuse that trust and waste or embezzle those funds.

According to The Oklahoman, state agencies spent over $24 million dollars on private attorneys over a three-year period. “Because outside attorneys are hired so often in Oklahoma, it is troubling that the public is not allowed to closely scrutinize those contracts,” State Rep. McCullough said. “I believe the Sunshine Act would reduce the chance for the misuse of taxpayer funds to enrich politically connected law firms and I will continue to fight for this important reform.” Even the Wall Street Journal published an editorial criticizing the lack of transparency in the state’s hiring of private attorneys. If Senate Bill 1379 had became law it would have required private attorneys to provide a statement of the hours worked on the case and attorneys could not charge the state more than $1,000 per hour. I guess in reality we don’t have to look to the cosmos to find a black hole, we should start at the state agencies and look at their legal costs.

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