Enter Representative Mike Ritze
One of them was Representative Mike Ritze. How did a state representative-elect get involved in a scheme to convince the public of corruption in the public schools? Why was he willing to repeat lies (pg. 62, 64), participate in a campaign to oust board members, betray a longtime friend, and embarrass Broken Arrow in the media – all on the word of someone he had just met?
According to page 130 of Sisney’s testimony, Ritze initiated contact with him. On August 8, 2008, Keith Isbell received an email from Ritze asking Sisney to call him. It makes sense that Isbell received the email, because it was sent to the district’s “Contact Us” email address, and Isbell, as the school district’s communications officer at the time, was the logical person to handle those emails.
Sisney met with Ritze in Ritze’s office, telling Ritze that the board was going to hire a new law firm that would fire Sisney: Rosenstein, Fist, and Ringold (RFR). Sisney was against this law firm, particularly the District’s former attorney, Doug Mann. Seriously, he hates him.
On August 11, 2008, Sisney emailed Ritze (Exhibit 6, page 67) to inform him of the date and time of the board meeting in which the board would vote on hiring RFR. Ritze responded in email, saying he would be there, and suggesting that they talk beforehand about what to expect.
They did meet before the board meeting, at Sisney’s house. Sisney showed Ritze some documents (pg. 48) that he portrayed as evidence of a conspiracy by school employees and Air Assurance to cheat the District. One of these was the Sequoyah invoice. Sisney told Ritze that the school had paid for work done at an office building owned by a longtime friend of Ritze, Dr. Hudkins. Sisney had known since June (pg. 14) that the work was actually done at Sequoyah Middle School, and the address on the invoice was just a typo. He knowingly misrepresented this to Ritze. Sisney showed Ritze a few other documents, including documents he claimed showed bid-splitting.
Ritze testified (pg. 51) that a neighbor of Maryanne Flippo told him that Air Assurance had given the Flippos a “sweet deal” on a new HVAC system. The neighbor took this statement and her impression that the Flippos were short on cash and reported to Ritze that Air Assurance was doing the installation for free. (This alleged conflict of interest was investigated in the real audit (pg. 21); no substantiation was found for a board member ever receiving free service from Air Assurance, and any business relationships between board members and Air Assurance happened after AA withdrew from Broken Arrow Schools anyway. Nice try, “Rivers“.)
On Sisney’s word
Ritze never checked into the validity of Sisney’s claims (pg 19, 22, 38, 29, 44, 47, 51, 52). He never asked anyone at the school about the Sequoyah invoices, did no research on bidding laws, did not look into bidding procedures at the school, never contacted Air Assurance, and never asked Maryanne Flippo – whom he had spoken with previously – about her HVAC installation. But he did immediately start advocating Sisney’s side of the story.
Only four days after first emailing Sisney through the school’s website, Ritze spoke on Sisney’s behalf at the August 12, 2008 board meeting, citing the tight budget and urging the board not to waste the District’s money hiring RFR. He helped gather signatures on a petition to oust the board members, and later participated in meetings with Sisney and his supporters (pg 55) in preparation for taking their alleged evidence to the auditor and attorney general. This misrepresented evidence was used by Sherri Combs and Ricky Branch to develop the now-discredited initial audit.
Ritze was less than forthcoming about his involvement when he was called for a deposition. First he refused to accept service. Then when his office accepted the papers for him, he claimed it didn’t count as service because he had already left for the day. Then he tried to get out of his deposition by claiming legislative immunity, meaning he could not be made to testify because he had undertaken an investigation of Broken Arrow Schools in his legislative capacity. The judge did not agree, for several reasons: Ritze was not yet in office when he started acting on Sisney’s behalf; legislative immunity applies only to cases in which the legislator is a defendant (not a witness); it applies only in the course of writing legislation; and Ritze never actually did any investigating. When the judge ruled that he had to attend his deposition and it was finally scheduled (nine months after the initial attempts at service), he filed a last-minute emergency appeal, again on the baseless claim of legislative immunity. This was also denied by the judge.
In his deposition, he said he didn’t recall sending or receiving emails to/from Sisney, until he was shown a copy of one (pg. 18). He denied circulating the petition to oust the board members, until he was shown a copy containing his signature, his family members’ signatures, the signature of the neighbor of Ms. Flippo’s who claimed that AA had given the Flippos free HVAC service, and his notary seal (he had tried to notarize his own signature) (pg. 19). At that point he suggested that the petition had been altered. He denied supporting any candidate for Ms. Flippo’s open board seat until he was shown a blog entry made by “Dr. J Mike” saying that one of the candidates would “stabilize the issues” involving the “recent events and crisis on the Board” (pg. 23). The email address on the blog entry is DRJMIKE@VALORNET.COM, which Ritze confirmed is his email address.
Ritze admitted in his deposition that he never investigated anything. The only person he ever asked any questions of was Sisney (pg. 26, 54-55) – the source of all the lies!
According to Ritze, he just took Sisney’s accusations at face value, without talking to anyone in the school administration or anyone Sisney accused. The real audit showed that all Sisney’s accusations of a conspiracy to defraud the District were false. Nothing he had shown Ritze amounted to evidence of any wrongdoing. But Ritze didn’t look before he leaped. In his deposition, he said it’s not for him to decide what the truth is, it’s for the judicial system. He just spreads the rumors. He was too busy to check into any of them.
Why was Ritze willing to do so much to support Sisney, at such a cost to innocent people? Without the slightest hesitation or attempt to discern the truth, he helped damage the reputations of his friend Dr. Hudkins, school employees, and board members he knew nothing about, and a business he knew nothing about, and embarrassed the city he represents. Was he really convinced that Sisney had discovered corruption in the schools? If so, why didn’t he alert the authorities, and call for an investigation himself? Why did he try so hard to avoid testifying in his deposition, if he was convinced that there was wrongdoing?
Maybe he was more interested in how he could use the media stories politically than in serving his constituents by getting to the bottom of the real conspiracy. His concern for the finances of the school district does not seem very genuine in light of what he did to assist in costing Broken Arrow hundreds of thousands in legal fees.