A veteran sergeant running for Tulsa County sheriff said he was moved out of the agency’s human resources department after he told his supervisors that a lucrative, no-bid contract with the former undersheriff’s wife was “illegal.”
“We tried to run a tight ship and follow the rules and then this thing came up,” said John “Randy” Pierce, a sergeant who has worked for the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office for 22 years. “I was basically told by (Undersheriff Tim) Albin, ‘Sometimes you’ve got to eat a spoon full of shit and acquire a taste for it.’”
Pierce is one of 10 candidates vying for the office since Stanley Glanz stepped down in November after being indicted by a grand jury. He contacted The Frontier in response to an investigation published Sunday revealing former Undersheriff Brian Edwards changed TSCO policies so his wife’s employer could receive a contract to perform physical exams on job applicants.
Though TCSO was paying $85 per exam at the time, the cost jumped to $800 per exam under the new contract. However Pierce said $800 was the cost for detention officers and that exams of applicants who wanted to be deputies actually cost the Sheriff’s Office $1,200,
Edwards’ wife, Vicky Weidner, performed the exams for Physical Therapy of Tulsa, where she works as a physician. She is a former emergency room physician at Saint Francis Hospital and former medical director for Tulsa Life Flight.
Physical Therapy of Tulsa has been paid more than $280,000 since the contract began in 2012, records show.
Former Undersheriff Rick Weigel recently notified the company notice that TCSO is ending the contract, which requires three months’ notice for such terminations. Weigel’s action came about the same time county officials were questioning the agency’s spending on a training center named after Glanz.
Edwards declined comment for The Frontier’s story while Weidner said she had nothing to do with her company getting the contract. However, Weidner said she developed the process used for the new contract after extensive research.
The president of the company, Helen Washecheck, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
In a 2012 deposition for a civil lawsuit against the county, Edwards was asked whether any of his family members worked for the Sheriff’s Office. Edwards responded that his wife conducted pre-employment physicals for Physical Therapy of Tulsa.
When asked if she was paid for the physicals, Edwards responded: “Well yeah.”
After additional questioning, Edwards said he was involved in helping his wife’s clinic obtain the contract.
“Prior to me leaving, I put in place changes in the pre-employment physical … and that was a derivative of that,” Edwards said during the deposition.
Asked whether Glanz knew Edwards’ wife worked for the clinic, Edwards replied: “Yes.”
Glanz was indicted by a grand jury in November on two counts: refusal to release a report on Bates and willful violation of the law after accepting a $600 county car allowance while driving a county car. He is scheduled to make a court appearance Wednesday.
The county did not require bids for the contract with Physical Therapy of Tulsa, which was approved by all three county commissioners in office at the time: Karen Keith, John Smaligo and Fred Perry.
The contract was renewed in 2014 and approved by Keith, Smaligo and Commissioner Ron Peters, records show. (An earlier report by The Frontier that Peters had voted for the first contract was incorrect because he was not yet in office.)
Keith said she was not aware that Edwards’ wife was employed by the company. The contract was reviewed by the county’s purchasing department and the district attorney’s office, she said.
District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler has not responded to a request by The Frontier for comment on the contract.
County officials have repeatedly claimed they lack legal authority to overrule the Sheriff’s Office on spending decisions. However they routinely approve contracts and expenditures by the sheriff.
Commissioners also unanimously approved a consulting contract the Sheriff’s Office signed with Edwards’ wife in 2013, records show. That contract paid Weidner a $200-per-hour consulting fee to help craft a new medical provider contract for the jail.
Records show she rated the company the highest of the four finalists.
Pierce said he believes the contract with Weidner’s employer was part of an agreement made before Edwards left for a job at the Grand River Dam Authority “so Tim could slide right in there” and become undersheriff.
Records show Physical Therapy of Tulsa’s contract began at midnight on May 1, the day Edwards began his new job as assistant general manager and head of law enforcement at GRDA, which pays $110,000 per year.
Albin resigned from TCSO three days after The Frontier obtained and published details of a 2009 internal affairs report showing he ignored concerns about Reserve Deputy Robert Bates’ training. Bates shot Eric Harris, who was unarmed, after an undercover gun sting April 2.
Bates was charged with second-degree manslaughter after claiming he mixed up his Taser and his gun and accidentally shot Harris. Bates has pleaded not guilty and his case is set for trial April 18.
While Weidner claimed the extensive physical testing process she developed saved the county money on workers compensation costs, Pierce disputed that. He said he provided documentation to his supervisors at TCSO that no money was being saved on workers compensation claims due to the contract.
“We sent them a report showing that,” Pierce said.
It’s also unclear whether the exams resulted in a more qualified workforce, as Weidner has claimed.
Records show Glanz and the department have been named in nearly 60 state and federal lawsuits since the contract began, many involving allegations of excessive force by employees, preventable deaths in the jail and racial discrimination.
Besides the tenfold increase in cost of exams, Pierce said he was concerned because they often were backed up, delaying hiring for important positions.
“She (Weidner) was always gone. I’m telling you it was a joke. I just absolutely refused to have any contact with them. .. I told them it was illegal.”
Pierce said after he refused to deal with the company, he was moved out of the human resource department of the Sheriff’s Office. He said Weigel then handled communications and issues regarding Physical Therapy of Tulsa.
It is unclear whether state bidding laws would apply, as Edwards no longer worked at TCSO and agencies such as TCSO are not required to solicit bids on contracts for professional services such as the physical exams. However, most agencies solicit proposals from multiple providers in order to save taxpayer funds and obtain the best services at the lowest price.
Weidner said the Sheriff’s Office has been provided data showing the success of the physical testing program but that she does not have access to the data.
When asked why other companies weren’t asked to submit proposals for the new physical exams, Weidner said Physical Therapy of Tulsa provides the county with a unique mix of professionals to handle the job.
“I just don’t know who else they would have gone to,” Weidner said.
Edwards’ changes in the requirements mandated a 26-point process that includes a registered nurse, licensed occupational therapist and a physician.
Pierce said when he learned about the pending change in physical exams for job applicants, the cost was going to be $1,200 per exam for detention officers.
“We got it dropped to $800,” he said.
Other county departments pay $145 per physical for new hires to another company, One Source Occupational Medicine Inc.
Deputy Justin Green, a spokesman for TCSO, said the Sheriff’s Office previously paid $85 to One Source for applicant physicals. Green said the agency expanded the physical testing for applicants in hopes of drawing more qualified deputies and detention officers and saving on personnel costs in the long run.
But Pierce said there was nothing wrong with TCSO’s process before Physical Therapy of Tulsa received the contract.
“Dr. Miller at One Source did a great job on screening applicants.”
Tom Helm, who spent 20 years in various roles at the Sheriff’s Office, said at the time Physical Therapy of Tulsa began its contract, he was working on a Homeland Security Task Force and was unaware of the details. Helm, who is one of 10 candidates for sheriff, left TCSO in 2013 and now works for Attorney General Scott Pruitt.
“I know that there had been a longtime concern that health care related costs were out of control and of great concern and the office was looking for ways to reduce those costs. More extensive physicals were being looked at as a way of reducing those costs, but the price that was rumored for those physicals seemed excessive and questionable,” Helm said in an email.
Helm said in his position, he was not “privy to any cost benefit analysis, if such was studied.”
“I still question whether such a high price for physicals was warranted and certainly would not be in favor of insider conflicts for such contracts without public transparency ever being an acceptable way to handle such issues.”