OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – The Oklahoma State Senate has passed a bill to plan for the long-term maintenance of the Governor’s Mansion.
It’s a measure that has several transparency guarantees built in.
Last year, News 4 was the first to tell you about a secret plan to build a new governor’s mansion.
KFOR’s Ali Meyer confirmed Governor Kevin Stitt had already raised millions of dollars from private donors to build this new mansion.
The governor called the project his “gift” to future governors.
Senate Bill 141 establishes an oversight committee for construction and maintenance on capitol grounds, to make sure those decisions are made without secrecy, for all Oklahoma citizens to be aware of changes made on public lands.
The State of Oklahoma just completed an eight-year, $280 million overhaul of our State Capitol, which included much-needed repairs to address plumbing and electrical systems.
Renovations addressed 100 years of wear and tear.
Last year, the state spent $2 million on the Governor’s Mansion, updating the traditional home for Oklahoma first families.
“It’s really important we create a system that’s not about one person’s preferences, but about really what’s better for the public good,” said State Senator Julia Kirt, who authored the bill. “We have to have checks and balances. Who can tell the governor, ‘No, this is not a good idea,’ or tell the pro-tem, ‘No, you shouldn’t take out that door, or take out that wall.’ It really has to be someone who has a similar level of power. That’s why we need them at the table working that out.”
Kirt has submitted similar bills the past several years, but believes there wasn’t much appetite for a uniform oversight committee until this year, months after a KFOR investigation revealed a secret $6 million plan to build a new governor’s mansion, adding a multi-million dollar residence to the capitol grounds.
“It’s extra public scrutiny and it’s extra representatives, people’s voices coming into that process,” Kirt said. “We need to make sure that there’s other people looking at things that might happen at the Governor’s Mansion. The Legislature has to appropriate the money. So, if the Governor has a vision for public spending, be that maintenance, be that renovation, the Legislature makes that decision where that money goes.”
This oversight committee would ensure checks and balances for decision-making about maintenance and all construction on the Capitol Complex, which includes the Governor’s Mansion.
“The Governor’s Mansion is one of the most beautiful buildings in the complex,” said State Representative Mark McBride. “I love the the woodwork and the art and the statues in the dining room. I mean, it’s just really neat to be to, you know, and honor to go there for a dinner or something.”
Representative McBride is the House author for SB 141.
He’s in favor of building a new Oklahoma Governor’s Mansion for first families.
He’s also in favor of a legislative committee to ensure the process is transparent and fiscally responsible.
“Well you may get private dollars to build it, but [the people] have to maintain it,” Representative McBride said. “It belongs to the people, all this does. It’s the people’s tax dollars that keep all this going.”
As we reported in 2022, the new Governor’s Mansion would be built with private dollars.
The Governor’s press team initially told us construction would start in the beginning of 2023.
We requested an update on fundraising and construction.
Communications Director for Kevin Stitt, Carly Atchison said: “We have no interest in helping KFOR write another hit piece about the governor’s mansion.”
News 4 requested the list of private donors from the non-profit organization holding those funds, Friends of the Mansion (FOM).
The FOM Executive Director, Tammie Brown said, they would make that list public eventually.
As right now, Brown says they have no new updates on The New Residence Project.
The State Senate approved SB 141 this month.
The measure is now on its way to the House for approval, and then onto the Governor’s desk.