OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The $245 million renovation of Oklahoma's state Capitol has led to allegations of a space grab.
Officials planned to boot Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones and about two dozen of his employees out of the building, but that was derailed after Jones refused to go along. The Republican, who's been a frequent and vocal critic of the Legislature, accused it and state officials of a space grab.
"It just floored me," Jones said of being notified last week by Secretary of Finance Preston Doerflinger and Capitol project manager Trait Thompson that plans developed in conjunction with House and Senate leaders called for him to be moved out of the building his office has occupied since statehood. Doerflinger also heads the Office of Management and Enterprise Services, which is helping oversee the project.
"What happened was they started arguing over each of them wanting more space. The House wanted more space. The Senate wanted more space. And then OMES wanted more," Jones said. "I never figured they'd expand so much they'd kick us out."
Gov. Mary Fallin said last week she was unaware of plans to evict Jones and directed Doerflinger to work with him on finding an amiable solution. A meeting with Jones is scheduled for Wednesday.
"I think it's important for a state elected official to have an office in the Capitol," Fallin said.
Jones has spoken out about various fiscal decisions over the years by the GOP-led Legislature and Doerflinger, such as slashing his agency's budget, handing out hefty pay raises to agency executives and taking over various auditing functions.
Doerflinger spokesman John Estus said Friday that the decision to move the auditor's office out of the building was not a political one, but instead a byproduct of renovation plans that call for more room for infrastructure and publicly available space.
"It wasn't retribution. It wasn't about politics or personalities," Estus said. "The decision was made based on what was the best use of the building space."
Estus noted the Department of Libraries also has been moved out of the building, freeing up nearly 14,000 square feet, along with most of the Secretary of State's operations. A barber shop in the basement also is being eliminated.
Jones also criticized legislative leaders for a massive expansion of House and Senate space over the last several years into areas previously occupied by the Supreme Court, Court of Criminal Appeals and Attorney General's Office.
"It's the people's building. It's not the House and Senate's building and OMES' building," Jones said.
Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman said several tenants were forced to give up space or move operations as part of the effort to make it more accessible to the public.
"I don't know why the auditor is raising such a big stink," the Sapulpa Republican said. "Most of the other people I've talked to have been willing to do whatever is in the best interest of the long-term goals of the building."
But Jones maintains keeping a presence inside the Capitol sends an important message both to legislators and the public, "especially now with this kind of stuff going on, that there is a visible presence of the office that the people of Oklahoma consider the watchdog."