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Cordell residents seek recovery of funds paid to mayor

Forty-seven people have petitioned the city of New Cordell demanding that officials take action to recover about $300,000 they claim was wrongfully paid to Mayor Alex Damon for serving the Oklahoma city and its utility authority in multiple capacities.
by Randy Ellis Modified: December 2, 2013 at 3:00 pm •  Published: December 2, 2013

Forty-seven people have petitioned the city of New Cordell demanding that officials take action to recover about $300,000 they claim has been wrongfully paid to the mayor since 2007 for serving the city and its utility authority in multiple capacities.

Meanwhile, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation is nearing completion of a nearly yearlong criminal investigation into some of the same issues.

“I don't believe I've done anything wrong,” said New Cordell Mayor Alex Damon, 53. “I'm just trying to help this town.

“I'm not sure why it's an issue now, other than a few disgruntled people who are mad at me and just want to run me out of town.”

Many residents believe the extra pay is an issue, said Oklahoma City attorney Johnny Beech, who is representing the petitioners.

Beech said petitioners have given city officials 45 days to take steps to recover the money and if they refuse, a lawsuit likely will be filed.

Two of the petitioners, Steven McLaughlin and Lazetta Penner, are on the eight-member city council, he said.

New Cordell, commonly just called Cordell, is a small Washita County city of about 3,000 residents.

Damon is paid $6,000 a year to serve as mayor of New Cordell, an elected position he has held for nearly 10 years.

At issue is whether it is legal for him to be paid an additional $6,000 a year to perform duties associated with an unfilled city administrator position, plus an additional $45,627 a year to serve as general manager of New Cordell Utilities Authority.

Extra payments began back in 2007.

Damon said the city has an ordinance that he claims allows him to receive a higher mayor's salary while also fulfilling the duties of city administrator and that officials voted to allow him to be paid as general manager of the New Cordell Utilities Authority.

As mayor, Damon became the ex officio chairman of the New Cordell Utilities Authority, a position that would prevent him from being general manager. Damon, however, said he resigned the chairman's job while keeping the mayor's position and claims that made him eligible to be general manager of the utilities authority.

State auditors challenged the additional pay arrangements in an audit released last January, questioning whether they violated state law.

State Assistant Attorney General Ethan Shaner followed with a letter Oct. 4 that concluded an elected municipal official cannot resign an ex officio post on a board obtained by virtue of his elected position and still retain the elected position. Shaner said the letter was his “own opinion” and not an official attorney general's opinion.

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by Randy Ellis
Investigative Reporter
For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two...
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