State Auditor’s Office sending citizens’ petition to Election Board | Local News

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The State Auditor and Inspector’s Office is forwarding a citizens’ petition seeking a special audit of the city of McAlester to the Pittsburg County Election Board — where election workers will check to verify signatures of those who signed it.

Those passing the petition turned in 1,226 pages of signatures, with one signature on each page, said Trey Davis, spokesman for State Auditor and Inspector Cindy Byrd’s Office.

“We counted them so we will know how many we received,” Davis said. He said the format of one signature per page was requested by those passing the petition, and the State Auditor’s Office approved the format.

At least 958 validated signatures are required in order for the Auditor’s Office to begin the process to audit the city, with those signing the petition required to be registered voters within McAlester’s boundaries.

Tim Barnhouse turned the signed petition in to the State Auditor and Inspector’s Ada office around 3:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 27, Davis said. Those passing the petition had until 5 p.m. Friday, May 28, to meet the 30-day deadline for requesting signatures.

“The next step is to forward the petition to the Pittsburg County Election Board Office,” said Davis. “It will be up to the Pittsburg County Election Board to certify the number.”

He expected the petition to be forwarded to the election board office sometime following the Memorial Day holiday.

Election workers will be tasked with checking each signature and verifying the signature is that of a registered voter living within the McAlester city limits, eligible to vote in city elections.

If at least 958 signatures are validated, then election workers will certify the petition as meeting all requirements and return it to the State Auditor’s Office. Davis said the 958 signatures required to meet the threshold for a special audit by the State Auditor’s Office are based on 10% of the number of registered voters living within the McAlester’s boundaries.

The Pittsburg County Election Board will have up to 30 days to check signatures on the petition to determine whether it should be certified.

“If they do validate it, we will schedule the audit,” Davis said.

Because of the number of audits already scheduled around the state, Davis said it could be up to a year after before the Auditor’s Office could conduct an audit in McAlester if the election board certifies the petition.

“We’re at least a year away,” said Davis.

Estimated cost of a special audit by the State Auditor’s Office ranges from $30,000 to $75,000, which shall be paid by the city of McAlester if the audit is conducted. Those numbers are based on the estimated audit and travel expense of the  State Auditor and Inspector’s Office.

Joel Skip Mitchell, of Lindsay, had requested the petitions from the State Auditor and Inspector’s Office for the petition drive.

Davis previously said the State Auditor and Inspector’s Office is required to provide guidance on how to correctly frame a petition when a citizen requests it.

“We are statutorily bound to do so if we get a citizens’ petition request for a special audit,” Davis said. He said the State Auditor’s Office works with the citizens on the correct way to write the petition.

Mitchell traveled to McAlester in October to attend a meeting at the Expo Center, where he said he is working with Forum Consulting Group, identified as Mitchell’s company. 

Those signing petition are asking the State Auditor and Inspector’s Office to conduct a special audit of the city of McAlester in eight different areas. As written on the petition, they include:

• Determine if Open Records and Open Meeting statutes have been complied with.

• Determine if select vendor contracts comply with statute.

• Determine if the contract with the city attorney complies with statute (does it constitute nepotism).

• Determine if the recall petition for Mayor John Browne was conducted and processed in accordance with statute and city ordinances.

• Determine if the “friends helping friends” fund is administered properly and used legally.

• Determine if the sales tax approved by voters in 2003, the collection of which was capped at $7,000,000, was used for its intended purpose. Determine if this sales tax, after collection reached $7 million was either terminated as specified, or whether authority to continue collecting the tax was renewed by public vote.

• Determine if the CARES Act monies have been spent in accordance with applicable criteria.

• Determine if general funds used for park upgrades and improvements were properly used.

The petition states the identified concerns allegedly occurred between July 1, 201 and Dec. 31, 2020. That does not mean the audit lis limited to the matters or time frame cited in the petition.

 “The scope of our examination will include relevant time frames for each concern,” the petition states. “The Office of the State Auditor is not precluded from examining other records or issues of which we may become aware that may be outside the scope of the concerns stated on this petition.”

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com.



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