District 12 (Rogers, Mayes and Craig counties) Assistant District Attorney Benjamin Lepak addresses Rogers County Commissioners during its Sept. 10, 2018 meeting. CLIFTON ADCOCK/The Frontier

The Rogers County Board of County Commissioners on Monday unanimously approved an agreement with the Rogers County District Attorney’s Office allowing the DA’s office to operate a community service program for low-level offenders, though it has already been running the program and collecting fees from participants for years.

On Sunday, The Frontier reported that the District 12 (Rogers, Mayes and Craig counties) district attorney’s office has been running a community service program for low-level offenders in each of the three counties.

Though District Attorney Matt Ballard’s office reached an agreement with Mayes County in autumn 2017 to take over its county-operated community service program through an interlocal agreement, Ballard’s office said it was unable to find any such agreement with Rogers or Craig counties to operate similar programs, though it has done so in Rogers County since at least 2005, Ballard said.

In 2012, the Legislature passed a law that allows counties operating a community service program to charge a $25 to $250 fee to those who are sentenced to the program. Though the law only applies to counties, Ballard said district attorney’s offices can operate a community service program and charge participants a fee as well if the county enters into an interlocal agreement with the DA’s office to run the program.

Trent Baggett, executive coordinator of the Oklahoma District Attorney’s Council said he had never heard of a district attorney’s office operating a community service program in Oklahoma, or what statutory authority would allow such an arrangement.

In the District 12 community service program, those sentenced or agreeing to community service through a negotiated plea deal with the DA’s office are charged a monthly $35 fee to be in the program, in addition to other district attorney and court fees. Since January 2016, the community service fee has generated $421,218 from Rogers County participants alone for the district attorney’s office.

The money generated from the program is used to pay for staff and office expenses in the DA’s supervision and community service office, Ballard said.

After The Frontier began inquiring about the legal underpinnings of the program being operated in Rogers County late last week, an agenda item appeared on the county commission agenda for Monday’s meeting requesting that commissioners approve an interlocal agreement with the DA’s office to run the community service program.

Pay to work: Rogers County DA program allows low-level offenders to do community service, for a fee

At Monday’s meeting, commissioners unanimously approved the interlocal agreement.

Assistant District Attorney Ben Lepak, who serves as the county commissioner’s legal adviser, told the commission that the agreement was placed on the agenda to clarify the situation.

“We never found an agreement between the county and the DA’s office,” Lepak told the commissioners. “That doesn’t mean there wasn’t one. I assume there would be one, but we’re unable to find it. I don’t know how much we looked in the county’s records. Anyway, we thought it would be a good idea to go back and memorialize the agreement to make sure it’s on firm footing. That’s what the agreement does.”

After the meeting, Lepak directed questions from The Frontier about the agreement to Ballard or Ballard’s community outreach coordinator Michelle Lowry. Neither were in their Rogers County offices on Monday, and Lowry did not return messages seeking comment.

“I’ve been here since the beginning of 2007 and it’s worked real well,” said Rogers County District 1 Commissioner Dan DeLozier. “I think the DA’s the best way to handle this and always has been.”

DeLozier later told The Frontier that the program not only helps improve the county, but helps those sentenced to the program as well.

“They (participants) are well taken care of,” DeLozier said. “It’s also to help the individuals. They enjoy coming to our warehouses and working. It’s a very good program.”

Rogers County District 1 Commissioner Dan DeLozier. Courtesy/ROGERS COUNTY

DeLozier said, prior to Monday’s agreement, he does not recall the commission passing a measure authorizing fees to be charged to community service participants since 2012, the year the Legislature passed the law allowing counties to charge a community service fee.

DeLozier said the agreement passed Monday isn’t retroactive, but “it’s just to explain it out. Apparently there hasn’t been an agreement in place for a long time.”

Asked whether that could create an issue for the district attorney’s office, which has been charging fees prior to the agreement approved Monday, DeLozier said he was unsure.

“I don’t think so,” DeLozier said. “I really don’t know.”

The agreement states that the county transferred its community service program to the DA’s office “in approximately 2005,” that both parties were satisfied with the DA’s office’s operation of the program that saves money and improves the community, and that both parties desired that a structured community service program for offenders continue to operate in an efficient and effective manner.

Under the agreement, Rogers County would not pay the DA’s office money to operate the program, but the “county will allow the DA’s office to collect the Community Service Program Assessment fees in its stead in exchange for the DA’s Office fully operating and managing said program.”

The agreement lasts until the end of the fiscal year, June 30, 2019, but automatically renews each year.