County Clerk Pushes COVID Grant To Campaign Donor Barry Switzer's Nonprofit


Friday, April 29th 2022, 10:08 pm


OKLAHOMA CITY -

To the surprise of Oklahoma County Commissioners, County Clerk David Hooten, a candidate for State Treasurer, added a $25 million agenda item to Monday's county commission meeting. 

The proposed recipient of the federal COVID-19 relief funds is a nonprofit founded by Oklahoma legend and Hooten campaign donor Barry Switzer and his wife Becky. 

Since 2017, the Switzer's Ground Zero Emergency Training Center has helped provide search and rescue dogs to 42 different first responder agencies. However, Hooten is dreaming bigger, claiming he reached out to the organization to discuss a multi-million-dollar partnership. 

“I wanted to in some way have that be part of Oklahoma County,” Hooten said at a July 15, 2021 budget board meeting discussing the proposal. 

Becky told the eight-member board that dogs could possibly be used to sniff out COVID-19 in humans. 

“We voted to give them this money to do this. If we are not going to do this then let not do it but let’s not keep them on a rollercoaster playing around with it,” Hooten said.

A month after the budget board meeting, Barry Switzer donated the maximum amount of $2,900 to Hooten’s campaign for state treasurer and has appeared in “Rootin’ for Hooten” campaign advertisements. 

“There’s only ONE David Hooten,” Switzer is quoted saying in the digital ad.

In an interview with News 9 Saturday, Hooten denied any correlation between the donation and his pushing for county funding. He claimed Barry Switzer “donates to everybody.”

“Barry and I have been friends since I was 9 years old,” Hooten said. “I played the National Anthem at the Cowboys when Barry Switzer was the coach. We have a long-time relationship. (The campaign contribution) has nothing to do with it. It’s not a story.”

“The funding consideration for this project is in no way tied to political campaign contributions,” Becky Switzer said in a statement. “Our family contributes to a number of campaigns every year, and there is absolutely no connection between our personal contributions and the important work we do at Ground Zero.”

“They needed a facility that would be COVID proof meeting they need more than land,” Hooten said at the 2021 meeting, “They need 100+ acres. They need a facility where they can quarantine not only the dogs but the handlers.” 

County Commissioners Brian Maughan, R, Carrie Blumert, D, and Kevin Calvey, R, individually praised the Switzer’s organization, but told News 9 they were surprised to see the Monday agenda item.  

“I’m not going to vote for it Monday, because we don’t have any proof it’s an item we can use this money for,” Board Chairman Maughan said. 

“Ground Zero Foundation does great work,” Calvey said. “I was surprised to see this item on our agenda, as it is premature at this time to vote on (American Rescue Plan Act) grant applications. We are developing a grant application process as we speak for the many worthy local nonprofits who are potential grant recipients for Oklahoma County ARPA funds.” 

“This is an incredible organization, but not something we should be spending county ARPA money on,” Blumert said. 

Ground Zero Emergency Training Center said in a statement that the county COVID-19 relief funds would be used in conjunction with a partnership with Oklahoma State University to create a national center for training canines for search, rescue and recovery. 

"We will continue forward in the open process of pursuing relevant funding and look forward to sharing more about this life-saving project at the public meeting on Monday,” a spokeswoman for the nonprofit said in a statement.

Monday’s meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. at the Oklahoma County courthouse annex building. 

Editor’s note: This story was updated Friday night with comments from the Switzer family and Saturday afternoon with comments from Oklahoma County Clerk David Hooten.