Tahlequah Daily Press

May 10, 2014

OSSAA to stop giving playoff tickets to lawmakers


Associated Press

— OKLAHOMA CITY — The group that oversees thousands of Oklahoma high school athletes will no longer give state legislators up to two free passes to high school playoff games and must pay a $1,200 fine under a settlement agreement approved Friday with the state Ethics Commission.

The Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association acknowledged it had a longstanding policy to give free passes to any state senator or representative who requested them. But the group ran afoul of state ethics rules once it began employing lobbyists on its behalf in 2011.

State ethics rules require any entity that employs a lobbyist to report contributions to lawmakers anything with a value of greater than $10.

“We are not sure what the value of an OSSAA playoff pass is, but we agree that it has a value of more than $10,” OSSAA’s Executive Director Ed Sheakley said in a statement.

The OSSAA gave playoff passes to nearly three dozen legislators this year, and to more than 40 during the 2012-2013 school year, Sheakley said.

Sheakley said the association gave away the passes so lawmakers could be better informed about OSSAA activities, and not to influence any specific legislation. He also maintained the association’s lobbyists at the time — Vickie White Rankin and Terry Ingmire — did not inform them of reporting policies for the ticket giveaway.

“I asked our lobbyists then if there was a problem continuing with this practice, and I was told that we could continue to distribute the passes,” Sheakley said.

But Rankin disputed that contention and said she was unaware that OSSAA was giving the away the playoff passes.

“I was totally unaware of those passes,” Rankin said. “I didn’t know what these passes were until a story came out in the newspaper.”

Under the agreement, OSSAA will update its policy at its next meeting to prohibit giving playoff passes to any legislators, state officers or state employees. It further agrees not to give anything of value, including tickets, for another three years, even if such gifts are permitted by law.

The OSSAA has come under intense fire in recent years including a three-day probe by a House committee in which legislators, coaches and parents of student-athletes aired numerous complaints against the organization. Legislators have been pushing for a series of changes to the agency, including a requirement for more openness and transparency from the group.

The association also was the subject of a scathing opinion from the Oklahoma Supreme Court last year that determined the association acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner in its handling of a high school football player’s case, involving Sequoyah quarterback Brayden Scott.

Funded primarily through gate revenue from high school sports championship games, the association had a $5.4 million operating budget last fiscal year.