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Editor’s note: This story is part of a reporting partnership between The Frontier and News On 6 / News 9. 

Tulsa County Undersheriff Rick Weigel addresses the media last week.

Tulsa County Undersheriff Rick Weigel addresses the media last week. DYLAN GOFORTH / The Frontier

Undersheriff Rick Weigel has a relative working as a sheriff’s deputy, raising questions about whether he could be violating state nepotism laws when he takes over for Sheriff Stanley Glanz next month.

Nearly a week after promising a new era of transparency, Weigel declined an interview request by The Frontier and News On 6 about whether he may be violating state law or county policy on nepotism.

The undersheriff’s spokesman and an assistant district attorney said Weigel is not in jeopardy of violating the law.

However, a 1988 attorney general opinion cited by the district attorney’s office raises more questions about the situation. It’s also unclear whether Weigel is complying with his own office’s policy prohibiting supervision of relatives.

Weigel’s nephew by marriage, James Morris, is a deputy at the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office, records show. He was hired in 2005, three years before Weigel joined the sheriff’s office.

When The Frontier and News On 6 raised the issue this week with Weigel, the undersheriff consulted the DA’s office about the nepotism law’s requirements.

“They said that it would not be an issue due to the fact that James Morris was an employee of the sheriff’s office before Undersheriff Sheriff Weigel was employed,” said Justin Green, a spokesman for Weigel.

Green did not answer follow-up questions posed by The Frontier and News On 6.

Morris was awarded the Life Saving Award by the sheriff’s office in 2013, according to “The Shield,” an internal newsletter circulated by TCSO. He was also awarded the Medal of Valor in 2009

State law says it is illegal “for any executive, legislative, ministerial or judicial officer to appoint or vote for the appointment of any person related to him” by blood or marriage to any position in the same office. The law includes nephews and nieces among the list of relatives impacted.

It also states the public official is prohibited from authorizing payment of salary to his or her relative.

Various court cases and state law define “public officer” as someone who is “invested with some portion of the sovereign functions of the government … for the benefit of the public.”

The law is written to encompass elected and appointed officials who hold public offices. As undersheriff, it’s unclear whether Weigel falls into that category now, though he is carrying out the sheriff’s duties.
However, when he takes over as acting sheriff on Nov. 1, he will assume the role of a public officer. Sheriff Stanley Glanz is expected to resign that day, according to his attorneys.

Glanz was indicted on two misdemeanor counts following a grand jury investigation into his reserve deputy program and related issues.

First Assistant District Attorney John David Luton said he reviewed the nepotism laws this week at the request of the sheriff’s office. He said he does not believe Weigel’s situation falls under the statute because his wife’s nephew was hired first.

“Clearly he (Weigel) didn’t have anything to do with the hiring. … The intent was to prevent people from being elected to public office and then hiring all their relatives,” Luton said.

Luton also pointed to a 1988 state Attorney General’s opinion that deals with such situations.

The opinion — requested at the time by longtime state Senator Gene Stipe — states employees are not required by the law to resign their positions if their relative assumes the public office after the employee is hired.

However the opinion goes on to state the law “would prohibit such employees from ever being considered for raises, lateral transfers, or promotions while the relative in question is in office and technically a part of the process that would have to be engaged in to approve such promotions, transfers or pay increases.”

“Such a change in job responsibilities or compensation would constitute a new appointment,” the opinion states.

Luton said while the law appears to prevent public officials from giving promotions and raises to relatives, Weigel “doesn’t directly supervise his nephew. There’s like five levels of supervisors between them.”

In his current role, Weigel has ultimate authority over all Tulsa County Sheriff’s employees, including pay raises and promotions. Morris is also a deputy III, indicating he may have been promoted several times while employed.

In addition to the question of state law, county policy prohibits sheriff’s office employees from supervising their relatives, whether by blood or marriage.

Former Sheriff’s Maj. Tom Huckeby was among employees forced out of the sheriff’s office after the shooting of Eric Harris on April 2 by Reserve Deputy Robert Bates. Huckeby supervised the violent crimes task force on which his son, Michael Huckeby, served.

While saying he didn’t realize Huckeby was supervising his son, Glanz acknowledged at the time that his own policies prohibit that.

Luton said he believes the two situations are not comparable.

“That’s a different issue. That obviously related to the Bates situation. … I think the law is clear that the person does not have to resign their position.”