CORDELL — The mayor of Cordell appears to have used his elected position to line his pockets with public funds, according to a state audit released Thursday.
Alex Damon collected more than $260,000 in salary above and beyond what was authorized by city ordinance and was doubly reimbursed for travel expenses over several years' time, according to the investigative audit conducted by the state Auditor and Inspector's Office.
The audit was requested by the city council in 2012 after Cordell residents voiced concern over payments to Damon, as well as perceived abuse of power and allegations of grant mismanagement by several other city employees.
Damon was not available for comment on Thursday.
Damon, who was first elected mayor in 2004, lost a bid to replace Ryan McMullen as Oklahoma House District 55 representative in 2009.
Among the audit findings:
• Damon received as much as $30,500 in addition to his mayoral salary by working as “acting” city administrator from 2007 to 2012.
• Damon received as much as $230,000 in compensation for being employed as general manager of the city's utilities trust during the same time.
• In addition to a $300 monthly travel allowance, Damon was paid an estimated $4,365 in additional fuel reimbursements on the city's gas card, despite no documentation.
• Four former city employees — including the former city clerk, treasurer, police chief and assistant police chief — and a current police dispatcher accumulated thousands of dollars in unpaid utility bills with neither penalty nor disconnection, despite city ordinances designed to prevent such activity.
• The private business that operates and manages the local theater accrued more than $25,000 in unpaid utility bills, in what amounted to an “undocumented perpetual loan,” the audit states.
According to auditors, Damon recommended the council hire him as acting city administrator and then resigned from the utilities trust so he could be rehired as its general manager.
State law prohibits an elected official from collecting a salary from a government position beyond the scope of his elected duties.
City Councilman Terry Patton said the move was approved by the Oklahoma Municipal League.
“We've had problems with city administrators in the past and he served at the job when we were without one,” Patton said. “It always comes back to he's more qualified than anybody else we can get.”
Auditors reported the city could not produce documentation that the league approved the additional assignments and salary.
‘Beyond a misunderstanding'
According to the audit, Damon continued to collect a salary as general manager of the utilities company after its board twice voted not to renew his contract. He also cast the tiebreaking vote to terminate the search for a new city administrator.
“In our view, this matter goes beyond a misunderstanding or misinterpretation of (utilities trust) board policy or the provisions of the contract,” auditors wrote.
Auditors found on Damon's Facebook page seven instances in 2011 when he used the city's gas card on the same day his band, Damon Jackson Band, performed out of town.
Auditors estimated he received $32,000 in taxable travel reimbursements between 2007 and 2011 that were not reported to state or federal tax agencies, and that the city's former treasurer and clerk used the gas card for their personal vehicles in several instances.
Auditors also noted Damon paid himself $10,400 in grant funds after designating himself grant coordinator.
The report shows auditors also found evidence Damon was using his city computer for his band enterprise and for his political campaigns.
In addition to referring the matter to the local district attorney, auditors recommended the city review its pay, travel and reimbursement policies.