Candidate Blasts $52 Million Bond For Cleveland County Jail

Thursday, October 28th 2010, 1:50 pm
By: News 9

Gan Matthews, News 9

NORMAN, Oklahoma – A candidate for Cleveland County's Commissioners Office said residents are getting fleeced over the new jail now under construction in north Norman.

Almost two years ago, county voters agreed to fund a new, 542-bed jail through the first county-wide sales tax to be opened in August 2011.

But Jim Robertson, a Democrat who is challenging incumbent Commissioner Rusty Sullivan, said the commissioners' numbers don't add up. "They issued $52 million worth of bonds in March of '09," he said. "They didn't get the bid on the jail until October of '09. And the bid on the jail after they added all the extras came in at $26 million."

Rusty Sullivan, chair of the County Justice Authority trust that approved the bond issue, said the county is actually saving money. Sullivan said the $52 million bond issue was based on estimated costs of jail construction at the time, just before the economic downturn.

By waiting six months after the bond issue to take bids on jail construction, and allowing prices and interest rates to drop, Sullivan said he and his fellow Commissioners saved the voters $20 million.

"Cleveland County, at the end of the day, is one entity that profited by this tremendous economic turndown," Sullivan said.

Across the state, at least 11 counties have jails under construction or under consideration. Besides construction costs, counties must also pay professional fees to architects and bond lawyers.

Robertson also said the more than $2 million in professional fees were excessive.

"The amount of fees that they paid--what I call the men in suits--is just outrageous. They paid about ten times more than what they should have," Robertson said.

Rusty Sullivan said that his predecessor in office and the county's legal office agreed to those fees, and he doesn't think it's out of line.

"We sent this through counsel, and we asked him through counsel, and this was well within reason for a commercial fee for this type loan," said Sullivan.

Cleveland County residents must still pay off the entire $52 million in bonds, but Sullivan said they will be paid off faster than expected.