Petitions for audits increase in Oklahoma towns

In the past 14 months the state Auditor and Inspector's Office has received nine requests from residents working to get their town, city, or school district audited.
BY MEGAN ROLLAND mrolland@opubco.com Published: July 30, 2012
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It started as a fight over dirt.

But when Buddy Thompson, 64, felt he was getting the runaround by town hall in Dewar, he did what a growing number of residents across the state are doing — petitioned for an audit.

“They kept trying to hide everything and make it difficult to get,” Thompson said. “I've been flat lied to, and that bothered me a little bit.”

Oklahoma law empowers residents to call for a state audit of any city, county, school district or agency by gathering 10 percent of the signatures of registered voters in the jurisdiction.

It's an oversight tool that State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones said is being used increasingly to address the concerns of residents, primarily in small towns.

In April, the state auditor's office investigated the town of Bernice and found violations of the Open Meeting Act and more than $100,000 in illegal fines, all because a resident started a petition drive.

In July, an audit of Rattan Public Schools was released, prompted by a petition drive, and a few small issues with the purchase, management and sale of district property.

Six other petition-driven audits are either under way, scheduled to begin or awaiting returned signatures.

“They felt like they were being stonewalled, and they were not getting the information from the entity is why they are starting these petitions,” Jones said. “They have a legal right to receive that information.”

Jones said many of the expensive audits could be avoided through better transparency and following open record and open meeting acts.

Dewar

Thompson said it took three weeks for Dewar officials to produce the minutes from town council meetings, and he has yet to receive the agendas for those same meetings that he requested.

Dewar Mayor Mike Deckard said the town has been forthcoming with information and documents for Thompson.

“He's got everything he wanted. He's got all the agendas, all of the minutes,” Deckard said.

The initial disagreement was over excess dirt that the city had from a sewer project.

Thompson said the contractors for the sewer project began dumping the dirt in a gully on his property that he wanted filled at his request, but soon Deckard put a stop to that.

Deckard said the excess dirt was dumped on his property to save it for an upcoming town park project.

The disagreement escalated, fueled by what Thompson called secrecy and corruption in the town just north of Henryetta.

Thompson needed less than 50 signatures, and now the audit will begin.

“I've got no problem with it,” Deckard said. “I know they're not going to find anything, but they should be the ones to pay for it when they don't find anything.”

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