Tulsa County commissioners approved nine contracts at a meeting earlier this week, including three for the Sheriff’s Office, and no one made a peep.

That’s usually how these things come down.

That is, until commissioners on June 29 approved a contract for the Sheriff’s Office to hire outside legal counsel to defend Sheriff Stanley Glanz in grand jury proceedings.

Dozens of people at the meeting objected to the commissioners’ vote, saying it was improper and illegal for the sheriff to use public dollars to defend himself.

At Monday’s meeting, Assistant District Attorney Doug Wilson again argued that it was legal for the sheriff to hire outside legal counsel for the grand jury proceedings and advised commissioners not to reconsider their June 29 vote.

They didn’t. But all of the hullabalo got me wondering: What is the process county commissioners follow in deciding whether to approve a contract?

And did they follow that same process with the sheriff’s contract?

Because hundreds, if not thousands, of agreements come before the Board of County Commissioners each year, including the nine approved Monday.

County Purchasing Director Linda Dorrell said all county contracts go through the BOCC because only the commissioners can legally commit funds.

No contract goes before the BOCC without her office and the District Attorney’s Office reviewing it, Dorrell said.

“I review it to make sure that there is no language in there that violates state law,” she said.

Tulsa County Purchasing Director Linda Dorrell

Tulsa County Purchasing Director Linda Dorrell

The Purchasing Department reviews contracts for such things as whether it has an automatic renewal that would extend it beyond the fiscal year and whether it includes language that would protect the county from having to pay the other party’s legal costs in the event of a dispute.

“It is strictly reviewing (the agreement) as to form and legality,” she said. “We are not questioning the purchase or the commitment to the service provider. We’re just looking at is as to form.”

After the contract is reviewed by the Purchasing Department, it is sent to the District Attorney’s Office, which must sign off on it before it goes to the BOCC.

“We don’t put anything on the agenda that hasn’t been signed off on by the DA,” Dorrell said.

She said it is not uncommon for a county commissioner to question an agreement.

“It happens all the time,” Dorrell said. “It happened this morning. To say they just arbitrarily approve things is not true.”

Commissioner John Smaligo said the Sheriff’s Office contract with McDonald McCann Metcalf & Carwile to represent Glanz in the grand jury proceedings received a typical review and then some, noting that Wilson read a four-page opinion on the issue at Monday’s BOCC meeting.

Unlike other agreements reviewed by the BOCC, the sheriff’s contract for outside legal counsel was not one commissioners could accept or reject, Smaligo said.

Wilson stated the sheriff “may employ outside legal counsel, and then if he chooses to do that, then the BOCC apparently is told it shall approve contracts for outside legal counsel,” Smaligo said. “There is no discretion given to the BOCC.”

Commissioners do have a say in other expenditures an elected official might place before the BOCC for approval, Smaligo said, but it’s not the board’s role to micro-manage the operations of other elected officials.

The Budget Board play a key role in scrutinizing county elected officials’ spending, Smaligo said. The board is made up of the county’s eight elected officials.

“Yes, we (county commissioners) can raise questions and debate these issues,” he said. “But ultimately it is not my job to run their office down to how many copy machines they need.

“It is my responsibility to review the contracts and make sure the county is protected” and the contracts are legal.