OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Department of Tourism and Recreation is seeking requests for proposals for restaurant contracts at state parks, Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell said Friday.
The action comes after the state terminated its contract with Swadley’s Bar-BQ restaurants following questionable billing practices, among other things. The company operated restaurants at six state parks.
It received nearly $ 17 million to install restaurants and make improvements at the parks.
The contract was canceled due to “potential fraudulent activity,” the state said.
The House is poised to investigate the issue, while Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater called for an Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation probe and audit.
Last week, Gov. Kevin Stitt announced that he had accepted the resignation of Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department Executive Director Jerry Winchester and directed Pinnell, secretary of tourism, wildlife and heritage, to take an active role in overseeing the agency.
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The state also filed suit against Swadley’s, seeking financial information.
“The transition is underway at Tourism, and we’re committed to protecting the taxpayers at every turn,” Pinnell said in a press release.
Pinnell said staff at the agency are providing information to the OSBI and to State Auditor and Inspector Cindy Byrd.
Pinnell is encouraging the Legislature to amend House Bill 3603, which was passed in 2018, to reinstate the authority of the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Commission, requiring it to approve all budgets and contracts. The bill, which became effective as law in 2019, relegated the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Commission to an advisory body and transferred its duties to the agency’s executive director, who was to be appointed by the governor.
Lawmakers in 2019 passed and Stitt signed bills also giving the governor the power to hire, fire and set the salaries of directors at five other large state agencies: the Office of Juvenile Affairs, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, and the Oklahoma Department of Transportation.