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Stitt bans no-bid PR contracts. But it won’t impact Oklahoma education agreement, spokesman says.

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Stitt bans no-bid PR contracts. But it won’t impact Oklahoma education agreement, spokesman says.

Jun 14, 2024 | 8:03 pm ET
By Barbara Hoberock
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Stitt bans no-bid PR contracts. But it won’t impact Oklahoma education agreement, spokesman says.
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Gov. Kevin Stitt, speaking during a bill signing ceremony on Feb. 27, on Friday issued an executive order banning no-bid contracts for public relations services. (Photo by Janelle Stecklein/Oklahoma Voice)

OKLAHOMA CITY – Gov. Kevin Stitt on Friday issued an executive order prohibiting state agencies from spending money on outside public relations firms by using sole source contracts.

But the executive order does not impact any existing contracts the Oklahoma State Department of Education has entered, a spokesman said.

Sole source contracts are issued without competitive bidding.

State Superintendent Ryan Walters has used state dollars for an outside firm to promote himself, his ideas and his administration, drawing criticism.

“It makes no sense for state agencies who pay the salaries of communications staff to outsource work to PR firms via sole source contracts,” Stitt said. “It’s wasteful and we’re putting a stop to it statewide.”

Stitt, in a press release announcing the executive order, didn’t mention Walters.

Lawmakers this session put in a stipulation in the State Department of Education’s budget bill that no funds can be spent “for the purpose of securing media interviews, public relations, or other public promotional purposes” unless required for a federal grant program.” 

Stitt on Friday vetoed that section of the bill, saying it would prevent any funds, appropriated or otherwise, from being used to secure media interviews, public relations, or other public promotions, except for participation in federal grant programs.

“The plain meaning of this language is unclear, but it is reasonable to assume that it could be interpreted to prevent SDE from recruiting teachers to teach our school children, prevent SDE from addressing constituent concerns, and prevent any number of routine public communications needed for a state agency overseeing thousands of employees and a majority of our students,” the veto message said.

Rep. Mark McBride, R-Moore, has said House leadership included the section in the measure because of concerns over a contract Walters signed with a PR firm to book national media appearances.

Walters called the section a political attack from McBride.

Walters approved a contract in March between the state Education Department and the D.C.-based firm Vought Strategies to handle national media bookings, write speeches and opinion columns, coordinate national event appearances and assist with public relations.

His agency employs a public relations person internally.

Vought Strategies indicated it would charge $200 an hour or $5,000 a month, according to records.

Dan Isett, State Department of Education spokesperson, said the executive order does not affect any existing vendor contracts at his agency.

The Vought Strategies contract was not a sole source contract, he said.

The executive order prohibits state agencies from entering into no-bid contracts with public relations, marketing, or communications firms and vendors and mandates, unless there is a statutory directive to the contrary.  The executive order requires that all contracts with PR vendors be procured through a minimum 30-day request for proposal. 

The executive order also mandates that agreements currently in place that were secured by a sole source shall not be renewed and shall terminate at the end of the current contractual term and implements restrictions on future contracts.

Public relations firms and vendors with active campaign-related or state question initiative contracts are banned from contracting with state agencies under the executive order.

The executive order also prohibits state agencies from entering into contracts with public relations vendors who employ registered lobbyists. Contracts must be immediately terminated if a vendor is caught participating in unregistered lobbying.

The executive order takes effect immediately.