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Audit Finds Irregularities At Tourism Department

A couple rides a water scooter on Lake Thunderbird east of Norman.
Brent Fuchs
The Journal Record
A couple rides a water scooter on Lake Thunderbird east of Norman.

An internal audit at the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department found fraudulent employee time cards, misappropriation of funds and failure to comply with the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The department hired Andrew Ranson as an auditor in January. Dick Dutton, the agency’s executive director, said the investigation started with time card issues.

The Journal Record’s Molly Fleming writes:

Ranson gave a written statement at Tuesday’s Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Commission meeting about his findings. He resigned last week after he said Dutton told him he would be fired if he didn’t resign. He said Dutton did not answer any questions about his reason for dismissal. In his six months, he told the board he uncovered numerous areas of noncompliance with agency policy, as well as state and federal law. He said some employees at one property were being asked to eat their meals at their workstations without being paid. He said General Counsel Claudia Conner would not acknowledge a law violation unless he told her who complained about the meal issue.

Ranson also said he was concerned the commission did not receive financial statements. Ranson says Dutton told him that he does not want to give the commission information that could be used to micromanage him.

Dutton did not comment on Ranson’s statement, saying it was an HR issue. Dutton told the commission the misappropriated funds amounted to less than $50.

Journal Record editor Ted Streuli, in his weekly conversation with KGOU, said the audit has led to nine engagements with the state. Ranson said an engagement entails specific information that must be given to management.

“It's really kind of a red flag that suggests that the state is taking this pretty seriously and that they're very concerned about what the audit revealed,” Streuli said. “So they're going to go in and really look at the nitty gritty at a lot of state-owned sites within that department all over Oklahoma.”

Most of the engagements were at Roman Nose State Park, and an update will be presented in August. One engagement dealt with Oklahoma park rangers, which will be updated at the tourism meeting in October.


McCleland: Ted, Molly Fleming writes in your newspaper that the Tourism Department hired an auditor in January. What prompted the audit?

Streuli: Initially there were some irregularities with time cards. The department's records didn't match those maintained by the Office of Management and Enterprise Services.

McCleland: So what did the audit find?

Streuli: Well the auditor, Andrew Ranson, not only found the time card irregularities, which in his audit he referred to as potentially some fraudulent activity there. He also found that there was a little bit of missing money. Now the department head, Dick Dutton, says it was less than $50. But he did find some pretty widespread concerns about violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, as well as state policies. So some of the kinds of things he was looking at, at state parks were employees being told that they had to eat lunch at their desks, some other time-keeping issues that were pretty questionable. That's led to at least nine engagements around the state where the state comes in and employees have to produce very specific data and records about those kinds of incidents.

McCleland: So talk a little bit more about those engagements. What exactly does that mean?

Streuli: Well it's really you know kind of a red flag that suggests that the state is taking this pretty seriously and that they're very concerned about what the audit revealed. So they're going to go in and really look at the nitty gritty at a lot of state-owned sites within that department all over Oklahoma.

McCleland: So after the auditor Ranson, after he presented the findings of his report, what happened to him?

Streuli: He was told to resign and he was told that if he didn't resign he was going to be fired.

McCleland: So do we know why he was asked to resign?

Streuli: We have no idea. Department director Dick Dutton did not give Ranson a reason and he would not comment on that point for our story.

McCleland: So now there's going to be an independent audit of the Tourism Department. Do we know who will conduct that and what they'll be looking for?

Streuli: We don't know yet who will conduct it. The department put out a request for proposals but they haven't hired anyone yet. And we would guess that they're going to expand on what Ranson was looking at and looked deeper into some of the things that turned up in his audit.

McCleland: Let's switch gears for just a moment, Ted, to talk about another story that The Journal Record covered this week. Sarah Terry Cobo writes about the growth of direct primary care. First what exactly is this, direct primary care?

Streuli: It's kind of a new take on an old way of practicing medicine. Under this business model, the doctor contracts directly with employers or patients to provide primary care. And it's a flat rate and there's no insurance company involved.

McCleland: So how can contracting for direct primary care reduce an employer's insurance costs?

Streuli: Well under the system doctors have no incentive to order any extra tests or procedures. So the one business owner we talked to said that when he switched to this model, his costs dropped by about 40 percent.

McCleland: How is a direct primary care physician different than, you know, a family practice physician?

Streuli: They were very much the same way, but they're more focused, the direct primary care physician, is more focused on preventative care. So financially it's in the doctor's best interest to keep you from getting sick rather than to treat you after the fact.

McCleland: So what are the benefits for a doctor who practices this type of medicine?

Streuli: Well they're able to make a living with only about half as many patients that a typical primary care doctor would have to see. So instead of the typical seven or eight minutes they can spend with the patient they can spend a lot more one on one time doing that kind of care. Now that's attractive to a lot of doctors. Plus they don't have all the insurance reimbursement hassles of a typical practice.

McCleland: We've been talking today with Ted Streuli. He's the editor of The Journal Record newspaper. Ted thank you so much.

Streuli: My pleasure, Jacob. 

The Business Intelligence Report is a collaborative news project between KGOU and The Journal Record.

As a community-supported news organization, KGOU relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online, or by contacting our Membership department.

The Journal Record is a multi-faceted media company specializing in business, legislative and legal news. Print and online content is available via subscription.

Jacob McCleland spent nine years as a reporter and host at public radio station KRCU in Cape Girardeau, Mo. His stories have appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered, Here & Now, Harvest Public Media and PRI’s The World. Jacob has reported on floods, disappearing languages, crop duster pilots, anvil shooters, Manuel Noriega, mule jumps and more.
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