There are growing calls at the state Capitol for the Oklahoma Department of Tourism Executive Director to resign. That comes after he signed off on the lucrative state parks contract with Swadley's Bar-B-Que, costing the state nearly $17 Million.
“It really baffles me that executive director Jerry Winchester is still sitting in the chair acting as though that didn’t happen on his watch. As if this didn’t happen under Stitt’s administration, as though (Winchester) wasn’t the one approving these types of contracts,” Rep. Collin Walke, D-OKC, said.
Asked if he’s calling for Winchester to resign, Walke said, “Absolutely.” Fellow Representatives Andy Fugate, D- OKC, John Waldron, D-Tulsa, and Trish Ranson, D-Stillwater, said they would join their colleague in calling for Winchester’s resignation.
However, the pressure for the executive director to resign isn’t only coming from Democrats.
“That’s a conversation that needs to happen,” Rep. Ryan Martinez, R-Edmond said. “If somebody’s not performing well and doing their job and giving the taxpayers the work that they deserve, they should look to maybe doing something different.”
In a statement a spokesman for the tourism department said, "Director Winchester serves at the pleasure of the governor and will continue to work to ensure the timely resolution of the department’s internal review and audit."
Just last month Winchester defended the Swadley's contract to a legislative oversight committee.
“Would it be better, if we’re going to lose money on it, that we lost it on good food and good service?” he told lawmakers.
“I mean my God, they had a burger named after him,” Walke said. “If his name isn’t written all over this corruption, I don’t know what is.”
Some lawmakers have cautioned against a knee jerk reaction they said would only continue the rash decision making.
“I’m worried about canceling overnight,” Sen. Julia Kirt, D-OKC, said. “We heard local employees getting laid off, we know people are going to be staying in the state parks, are they going to be able to get the service that they need? I’m just worried whether the state’s going to lose more money and more goodwill in the communities by closing overnight.”
“It wasn’t abrupt enough, put it that way. I think it’s something that should’ve ended a long time ago,” Martinez said.