The Board of directors for the Grand River Dam Authority approved the purchase of a Tulsa office building at the regular meeting on May 9.
GRDA began exploring a possible expansion into Tulsa after reviewing plans for new construction according to a press release issued later that day by GRDA Corporate Communications Director Justin Alberty.
Grand Lake community legislators, mayors, county commissioners and residents wonder how it is possible that Integris Grove, Google, Precision Machine and Manufacturing and other corporations are capable of hiring qualified doctors, engineers, IT staff and other professionals but GRDA needs to move offices to Tulsa to acquire their professionals.
“The simple fact is it’s less expensive to buy than build new,” said GRDA Chief Executive Officer/Director of Investments Dan Sullivan in a statement. He added that federal regulations, current space limitations and the need to address recruiting issues were all factors in GRDA’s decision to focus on the Tulsa property.
“I consider Tulsa part of Northeast Oklahoma,” said Sullivan on Thursday.
“Other companies have been recruiting our engineers and tell them they wouldn’t have to drive to Pryor, he said.
“There are a lot of assumptions out there. This is not something we’ve just conjured up to get office space in Tulsa,” said Sullivan, who added they have facts to support this decision.
“I look forward to a constructive discussion about this issue and not engaging in emotional arguments,” said Sullivan. He explained that GRDA has had four openings for engineers since last June and one since last December.
“We are not manufacturing this. It’s reality,” said Sullivan. “GRDA is successful when recruiting for other positions, but it’s difficult getting the specialty engineering positions filled.”
Representative Dr. Doug Cox, D-Grove, said the water used to provide the energy is here, along with coal-firing plants.
“GRDA was created to serve the citizens of northeast Oklahoma,” said Cox. “This should be the center of GRDA’s operations.
“I am a really big fan of Dan Sullivan, but I disagree with this decision,” continued Cox. “The timing is terrible. He is new to this position. He just started building new relationships with the residents around Lake Hudson and Grand Lake. The reason that GRDA needs to move to Tulsa for better recruiting opportunities is a slap in the face for all of us.”
Cox said he can write a long list of engineers and IT technicians who can’t wait to get to the lake every weekend from Oklahoma City and would love the opportunity to live and work at either Grand Lake or Lake Hudson.
“If it’s true that GRDA is not offering a competitive salary and not paying for recruits to interview, we shouldn’t be blamed for GRDA’s shortcomings,” Cox said.
Tuesday evening eight lawmakers signed a letter to be read at the GRDA board meeting calling GRDA’s plan an insult and an assault on Northeast Oklahoma.
In the letter, State Senator Sean Burrage said the group is against the GRDA’s planned purchase of a 40,000-square foot office building in Tulsa — a community not served by the electric company.
“Since its very beginnings, GRDA has maintained its operations in Northeastern Oklahoma. They’ve claimed they need an office in Tulsa in able to recruit engineers and other positions, but we’re just not buying it,” said Burrage, D-Claremore. “We’ve seen recent growth at the Mid America Industrial Park in Pryor and industries like Google who have announced major investments here. To expand their operations outside of the area GRDA serves is a slap in the face to all of us in Northeastern Oklahoma.”
Burrage said the lawmakers have requested that the letter be read at the Wednesday meeting of the GRDA board of directors. Other lawmakers signing the letter include Sen. Charles Wyrick, D-Fairland; Sen. Kim David, R-Porter; Sen. Jim Wilson, D-Tahlequah; Rep. Larry Glenn, D-Miami; Rep. Ben Sherrer, D-Chouteau; Rep. Chuck Hoskin, D-Vinita; and Rep. Doug Cox, R-Grove.
“I take great pride on bragging about GRDA and Grand Lake being the largest economic engine from Tulsa to St. Louis, but if this continues, it will no longer be the case,” said Dr. Cox.
“I am big fan of economic development. I get the issues, but you can’t argue the facts. Some people don’t want to live in a small town and some people don’t want to live in a city,” he said.
“I guess we will need to start looking at alternative sources of power,” said Jimmy Tramel, Mayor of Pryor as he left the board meeting Wednesday.
Governor Fallin was never informed by the GRDA board that a purchase in Tulsa was under consideration. When the governor’s office did learn of a potential purchase through the media, the governor asked her only appointee on the board to convey to board members that she wished to delay any plans for purchasing property in Tulsa until she and other interested stakeholders could be briefed on the purpose and details of such a plan. Governor Fallin was surprised and disappointed when the board disregarded her request to delay a vote.
Over a period of many years, the GRDA has suffered from policy and public relations missteps that have eroded confidence in their agency. The governor remains hopeful that the board and the new director can build confidence and public trust. However, their recent actions represent a setback in that effort.
Governor Fallin has heard from local legislators, community leaders and families who are frustrated with the GRDA’s lack of responsiveness and transparency in this recent purchase. In the future, she believes it is important for the board to work with her office, other lawmakers, local communities and all other stake holders to build consensus, increase transparency and build public trust in the agency.