By D.E. Smoot
Phoenix Staff Writer
A longtime, local nonprofit dedicated to providing job opportunities for the developmentally disabled benefited from the donation of a multiple-line telephone system.
Taylor Foster, executive director of Golden Rule Industries of Muskogee, described the donation by Muskogee County commissioners as “pretty significant.” The telephone system was installed by Cross Communications as a donated service at the agency’s new headquarters.
“We would have had to spend about $6,000 to put a telephone system like this in our new headquarters,” Foster said. “It was a surplus phone system from the courthouse, and they were able, in turn, to help out a local nonprofit.”
The donation, however, was accompanied by questions about the legality of the gift. The county commissioners’ chief legal adviser put those concerns to rest Tuesday.
Muskogee County District Attorney Larry Moore said the facts underlying the donation didn’t require commissioners to declare the equipment surplus to the county’s needs before the phones were donated.
The commissioners’ donation was completed without official action. State law requires commissioners to perform certain acts before disposing “of any tools, apparatus, machinery and equipment” owned by the county. Those steps must be taken for equipment with initial costs of $500 or more regardless of whether the equipment is “sold, exchanged, junked, leased or let where authorized by statute.”
District 1 Commissioner Gene Wallace said the telephones donated to the nonprofit were among those replaced this past year when a new system was installed countywide. Wallace and other county officers remembered discussing the donation, but they took no official action with regard to the request.
County officials said the donated telephones, which reportedly were bought a few units at a time during the course of several years, were on the “way to the trash bin.” The telephone equipment never was inventoried, officials said, and no records were kept with regard to equipment’s initial costs.
Muskogee County Treasurer Kelly Garrett said technicians who installed the county’s new telephone system said the equipment replaced had little to no value. Garrett spearheaded a committee charged with overseeing the selection and subsequent installation of the county’s new telephone system.
District 3 Commissioner Dexter Payne said the board would not have declared all the old telephones surplus as a block because the units were purchased separately by various county officers. Payne and Moore said telephone equipment purchased separately would have to be declared surplus to the county’s needs in separate blocks.
Moore said, under the circumstances described, the answer to questions about the legality of the donation hinged upon whether the telephones were inventoried items.
“If it’s not on the county’s inventory and there appears to be no value, the inquiry ends there,” Moore said. “In theory, they (the telephones) don’t exist.”
Garrett said the real value of the donation is unrelated to the equipment, it was the “charity of Cross Communications that would have been the greatest cost.” Wallace said the donation to Golden Rule was a natural fit because the agency was set up initially “under the auspices of the county.”
Golden Rule provides employment opportunities for those whose disabilities might otherwise be limiting. The local nonprofit operates four thrift stores that sell donated goods to the public. Sales proceeds help subsidize the agency’s vocational program.
Payne said he has supported Golden Rule’s mission for years, saying it “helps handicapped people with training and gives them a place to work.” Foster said the agency’s new headquarters includes expanded office space, a sorting station for donated goods and a training facility.
In addition to its thrift stores, Foster said Golden Rule has several large janitorial contracts. The work, which includes some light industrial assembly, is performed primarily by Golden Rule’s clients, who are provided training and other job opportunities.
Foster said all the work performed by its clients is completed in a setting that allows disabled workers to perform the work with the supervision of a job coach.
Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or firstname.lastname@example.org.