OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) — News 4 continues to report on an exclusive story we first broke earlier this month; Governor Kevin Stitt’s secret plan to raise private dollars to build a new governor’s mansion.

Our team of journalists started working diligently on a factual account of this mansion project as soon as we found out about it.  Verifying the information and getting sources to confirm the details of the project took considerable time, because many close to the project were asked to keep the secret.

According to a draft timeline of the project, Governor Kevin Stitt started meeting with architects and engineers in the earliest days of his term, which began in January of 2019.

The Governor was planning to raise private dollars to build a $6 million home on the grounds of the historic governor’s mansion.

image of Rendering of secret Governor's Mansion Architectural Design
Architectural designs for new Governor’s Mansion

The vast majority of donations were pledged in the first year of fundraising, 2019.

Construction was expected to begin in March of 2020 with a completion date of March of 2021.

The Governor did not agree to talk to News 4 about his plan to build a new mansion.

The day after our story first aired, Governor Stitt confirmed to reporters that “some business people” had pitched an idea to raise private funds to build a new governor’s mansion when he first came into office.

Those business people were fundraiser Bob Ross and public relations executive Renzi Stone.

Ross and Stone say they are both proud of their volunteer work fundraising to ensure Oklahoma first families have a beautiful residence.

They say the vision of a new mansion pre-dates Governor Stitt’s time in office.

Former Oklahoma governors confirm to News 4, they had also been approached by business leaders about building a new mansion.

No other Oklahoma governor has moved forward with the idea.

In August of 2019, the Governor’s office told the public, they planned to renovate the historic mansion and move in.

However, at the time of those public statements, the plans for a new mansion were already complete.

The Governor’s Director of Communications, Carly Atchison, said the historic governor’s mansion was not conducive for the Stitt family.

She said, “Governor Stitt and First Lady decided their legacy gift to the state would be a new private residence to better accommodate large families and families with small children.”

According to the draft project timeline, the new mansion would have been ready for the first family to move in by March of 2021, only two years into the Governor’s term.

In the four years since Governor’s Stitt first took office, there has not been a single public announcement about a privately funded campaign to build a new residence for the Governor.

The Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES) confirms there has been no application for new construction on the grounds filed with the Capitol-Medical Zoning Commission Office.

The governor and his communication team have claimed the new mansion project was not a secret.

But as we have reported, board members for the non-profit Friends of the Mansion were asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

Last year the President of the Board, “reminded the board to keep everything pertaining to the project confidential.”

“Any time there’s a lot of private money going toward a public project, I always want to know who is it convenient for? Who is it inconvenient for? Who profits? Who doesn’t profit?,” said Freedom of Information Oklahoma Executive Director, Kurt Gwartney. “The public really needs to know where the money is coming from because there’s always that question of why. Why would someone give this much money for this thing that’s tied to this government official and not expect anything?”


First Lady Sarah Stitt is the board chair and chief fundraiser for Friends of the Mansion.

We called her Chief of Staff on October 4th, one week before our story first aired on October 11th.

The First Lady’s Chief of Staff, Lauren Dunlap, was the Executive Director of Friends of the Mansion in 2019.

Board minutes confirm she attended many meetings where the board discussed a new mansion.

In July of 2020, she was in attendance when “there was concern voiced that we are accepting money for the new family residence without board approval.”

In May of 2021, she was in attendance when the board discussed $1.4 million in restricted funds for a new mansion.

In August of 2021, she was in the room when the board discussed those restricted funds, which had grown to $1.6 million.

However, when News 4 asked Dunlap about a plan to build a new mansion, Dunlap said, “There’s not a plan to build a new governor’s mansion.”

The Governor’s press team says that was not a lie.

“Lauren’s statement was accurate, there is no plan to build a new governor’s mansion. There is a plan to construct a private residence for future governor and first families, which is the most accurate characterization for the new construction,” Atchison said. “Our office will not be providing any additional comments to you or your station for any follow-ups on this ongoing political hit job.”

Although the non-profit Friends of the Mansion declined to speak to us on-camera earlier this month, the board president recently sat down with News 4 for an interview.

Board President, James Pickel has served four governors in his role on board for Friends of the Mansion.

“We take very seriously our responsibility. It’s not just to the first families, it’s to state owned property that is that should be protected and preserved and maintained for the citizens of Oklahoma, and we’re doing that,” said Pickel.

According to Pickel Friends of the Mansion has had limited involvement in the effort to build a new governor’s mansion.

“Our involvement so far has been to take the private donations that are being raised and put them in a restricted bank account to where they cannot be touched for anything but a new first family residence,” Pickel said.

The Friends of the Mansion board has never voted on the plan to build a new mansion or a new residence.

The board has had no input on the scope of the project.

Friends of the Mansion has spent zero dollars on this project and cannot answer this question, why was this new mansion kept a secret?

“I don’t have an answer to that. We have not been asked. I don’t know if it was the intention to just raise it from a smaller group of people, large amounts, fewer people,” Pickel said. “I don’t know if there is a plan to go more public in the future. I really don’t know.”

We have asked for the list of donors; wealthy Oklahomans contributing up to $150,000 per person, up to $250,000 per foundation.

So far, that list remains confidential.

State Senator Julia Kirt is leading an interim study on transparency in government.

Last session, she authored a bill to address oversight on the grounds of the capitol complex and the mansion. Her measure made it out of committee but was not heard on the floor of the Senate.

“I would say there has to be a respect for meaningful transparency,” Kirt said about the plan to build a new governor’s mansion. “There’s an amount of transparency that has to happen. You don’t just say because a donor wants to do it, we’re going to do it. It is not that donor’s decision what we do with our public property.”

News of a new mansion was a shock to many Oklahomans and many lawmakers in both parties.

Some Republicans in leadership report hearing rumblings about a new mansion years ago.

But, since the legislature approved millions in renovations to the historic mansion, they believed the new mansion plan was dead.

“That needs to be a public conversation because the public should weigh in on our history and what we have on our capitol grounds. That’s absolutely the public’s business,” Kirt said.

News 4 called 17 Republicans in the House and the Senate for their response to our reporting on the plan to build a new governor’s mansion.

We only heard back from one who agreed to an interview; he cancelled the next day.

Tuesday morning, News 4 learned of a new plan to release the list of private donors once fundraising is complete.

Friends of the Mansion Executive Director, Tammie Brown, confirmed the release of the donor list in a statement:

“The Friends of the Mansion is proud to be a non-profit organization that helps maintain the existing Governor’s Mansion and grounds as well as make it available to the public for historical tours and events and for the Governor to host dignitaries, job creators, and guests to the great state of Oklahoma. Every governor in recent history has pursued a legacy gift to leave for the next generation and future families, and our role is to facilitate this incredible generosity. We will be working with Bob Ross and Renzi Stone to ensure all donors are made public and recognized for their kindness and contributions once the fundraising campaign concludes.”

Renzi Stone and Bob Ross have both spoken with News 4 off-camera about their efforts to raise $6 million for a new mansion.

Additionally, each sent over a statement about their involvement:

“I’ve financially supported and fundraised for Friends of the Mansion for many years under multiple governors, both Democrat and Republican. The vision for a 100-year residence for future first families has been in discussion long before Gov. Stitt’s 2018 election. Every governor raises funds for a legacy gift, and we are grateful the Stitts have chosen this much-needed project as their gift for future families.” – Renzi Stone

“It’s been an honor to participate as a volunteer fundraiser for the capital campaign to ensure the Friends of the Mansion can serve the needs of Oklahoma and its first families. The vision for a family home began by a group of Oklahoma City leaders prior to Gov. Stitt’s time in office due to the challenges of the existing mansion infrastructure, to include ADA access to a first-floor bathroom and residential space. While the Stitts will never live in a future family home, we are grateful they have dedicated the governor’s traditional legacy gift to constructing a private residence, funded fully by private dollars. We put the fundraising campaign on pause in 2020, but once it concludes, we will make public the generosity of donors across Oklahoma who will make this important vision a reality.” -Bob Ross

According to minutes from Friends of the Mansion, the restricted funds account (which includes the New First Family Residence project) has continued to grow throughout 2020, 2021 and 2022.

According to Governor Stitt’s Director of Communications, the Governor and First Lady have raised more than $6 million for a new first family residence, which will be a legacy gift to the state. Construction may start as early as next year.

Governor Stitt is up for reelection on November 8th, facing opponent Joy Hofmeister in a tight race. News 4 has made no effort to delay any reporting on this matter.  The only delay in publishing, was to give the Governor’s office additional time to respond to requests for information.