HENRYETTA — Allegations of wrongdoing and harassment by Henryetta city officials have prompted the state auditor’s office to open an investigation.
Among other things, auditors will be looking into allegations of misappropriation of grant funds intended for the city’s $9.5 million water treatment system, possible violations of the Oklahoma Open Meeting and Open Records Acts and alleged improprieties linked to dual office holding by a former city manager/city fire marshal, confirmed State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones.
The audit is in response to a successful citizen’s petition spearheaded by longtime Henryetta City Hall critic Howard (Buck) Sheward.
“I’ve been run through the mill,” Sheward, 70, said of his treatment by Henryetta police officers and other officials. “I’ve had two protective orders filed on me. They’ve served me papers at 2:30 in the morning, beating on the door like a drug raid. I’ve had two citations when I was getting signatures for this petition — one for not parking close enough to the curb and one for being on the wrong side of the road of a dead end street.
“They’ve harassed and persecuted me for raising questions,” he said, adding that city officials have refused to respond to 13 Open Records Act requests he has made since October.
Henryetta City Manager Ted Graham, who has only held that position for 10 months, said Sheward has a history of antagonizing city officials by berating them in public and making demands staffers believe are unreasonable, like repeatedly submitting onerous Open Records Act requests.
“Since I’ve been here, he hasn’t followed the process laid out by the city and the city attorney,” Graham said. “Since they’ve had four years of interaction with this gentleman, they had a set process laid out for him. I think we’ve complied with most of them. Some of them I think are unreasonable, so we haven’t been able to meet those.”
Graham said requests for huge quantities of city officials’ emails have been problematic, because the city didn’t have an onsite server when he first became city manager and locating emails would require searching through the personal emails of city employees since they used their own personal email services.
One thing Sheward wants auditors to look at is the purchase of a $9.5 million drinking water treatment system that has never worked properly.
“They didn’t properly monitor the project,” he said.
Graham acknowledges there are problems with the water system and said the city is currently engaged in litigation with its design engineer.
Sheward’s complaints about dual office holding by former city manager/city fire marshal Raymond Eldridge also have a long history.
The Oklahoman reported previously that officials with the Oklahoma Firefighters Pension and Retirement System had accused Eldridge of making false misrepresentations in an effort to deceive them into allowing his salary as city manager to be credited toward entry into the retirement system.
Eldridge filed a nearly $1.4 million claim with the city earlier this year. He also has an appeal pending the the pension system, according to his attorney, Daniel Gamino.