OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – State leaders say they are moving forward as they prepare for future state park restaurant contracts
Last month, a report by the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency was raising eyebrows about a four-month investigation into significant expenditure growth by the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department.
The report focused on lawmaker concerns regarding a contract with Swadley’s Bar-B-Q restaurants.
Officials say the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department has paid $13 million to Swadley’s Bar-B-Q restaurants to renovate and run the Foggy Bottom Kitchens in certain Oklahoma state parks.
Recently, the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department announced that it was canceling the lease concession agreement with Swadley’s Foggy Bottom Kitchen.
According to the statement, the department said it was canceling the contract due to “suspected fraudulent activity and questionable business practices.”
The department said it started an internal investigation in the fall of 2021 after “reports of financial irregularities were brought to our attention.”
Officials say financial payments for construction costs were stopped in September, and management fees were suspended in December.
On Friday, Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell announced a new request for proposal for new state park restaurant concession contracts.
“The transition is underway at Tourism and we’re committed to protecting the taxpayers at every turn,” said Lt. Gov. Pinnell. “We have filed a lawsuit against Swadley’s Foggy Bottom Kitchen to demand access to their financial records, and I am pleased that the Attorney General’s Office is representing the State in this matter. Tourism staff is also communicating with and providing information to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation and the Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector.”
The new RFP for new state park restaurant concession contracts is available now and will remain open for at least two weeks.
Officials say the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Commission will be involved in the new contract arrangement.
Also, Pinnell said he is encouraging the Legislature to amend HB 3603 to reinstate the authority of the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Commission, requiring the commission to approve all budgets and contracts.
That law watered down the Commission’s power and made it an advisory board.
“As the work continues to review operations and processes, it’s important to keep in mind that we have made great progress improving our state parks, and a record amount of visitors are taking notice,” Pinnell added. “I am looking forward to getting our restaurants back open soon and working with our Legislature to continue carrying out Governor Stitt’s vision of making Oklahoma a Top Ten state for tourism.”