Tourism

Oklahoma state senator submits legislation to reinstate Tourism Commission after disagreement with Swadley.

OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) — The chairman of the State Senate Appropriations Committee is drafting a bill to restore the authority of the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Commission, an action taken in the wake of a recent dispute over multimillion-dollar government contracts with Swadley’s Foggy Bottom Kitchen.

Law written Sept. Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, includes giving the commission the ability to hire and fire the agency’s chief executive, as well as restoring the commission’s oversight of contracts and financial spending, according to a state Senate press release.

“We have a responsibility to the citizens of Oklahoma — the taxpayers who pay their tourism bills,” Thompson said. “My law will restore important oversight powers previously vested in this agency’s commission, providing a critical check and balance on how taxpayer money is used.”

The state legislature passed legislation in 2018 that transferred much of the commission’s powers to the chief executive, making the commission an advisory board.

The 2018 legislation also gave the governor the exclusive ability to hire and fire the commission’s chief executive and removed the requirement that the commission meet at least quarterly. The commission has met only three times — in July and October 2019 and January 2020 — since the law became law in 2019.

Thompson said the results of the Legislative Office of Financial Transparency (LOFT) report on Oklahoma Tourism and Leisure Department spending, including disputed spending and contracts with Foggy Bottom Kitchen Swadley, show an urgent need to restore the commission’s authority.

“The commission didn’t even function as an advisory board as it was supposed to,” Thompson said. “The law I am writing will bring back barriers, restore the commission’s oversight powers, and help ensure greater oversight of the use of public resources.”

A report from the Legislative Office for Financial Transparency, released in mid-April, raised concerns about a four-month investigation into a significant increase in spending by the Department of Tourism and Leisure.

The report focused on lawmakers’ concerns about the Swadley’s contract.

Officials say the Department of Tourism and Recreation has paid $13 million to Swadley’s Bar-BQ restaurants to refurbish and run Foggy Bottom kitchens at some Oklahoma state parks.

Officials from the Department of Tourism and Recreation recently announced that the department is canceling the concession to rent…

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