- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 25, 2015

PAOLI, Okla. (AP) - An Oklahoma audit says that the board of trustees for a small Garvin County town may have violated the state constitution by granting themselves a six-month exclusion from paying their utility bills.

The Oklahoman (https://bit.ly/1LzI5nV ) reports the Tuesday audit says state nepotism laws may have been violated when trustees in Paoli voted to appoint the wife of one trustee as town clerk/treasurer. The audit says trustees then allowed her to appoint the mayor’s daughter as deputy town clerk/treasurer.

Paoli is a town of 600 people a few miles north of Pauls Valley.

Londa Beckelheimer, the town’s clerk and treasurer, said none of them knew their actions were wrong.

State auditors reviewed town records after a citizen’s petition requested an audit, and found that trustees voted to approve “employee water benefits” in July 2014 that exempted town employees, including employees and Mayor Juanita Mata, from having to pay for utilities provided through the town’s utility authority.

The newspaper could not reach the mayor for comment Tuesday.

Beckelheimer said board members voted to exempt town officials and employees from paying utilities after hearing that another nearby town had done the same thing. She said the action was reversed after the town’s public accountant told them they couldn’t do it.

Auditors say the town was never repaid for the six months of unpaid utility bills.

Beckelheimer said she agreed to serve as the town clerk/treasurer after the previous clerk “just put her keys on the desk and walked out the door,” leaving the Paoli in a bind.

State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones said he has forwarded the audit to Garvin County District Attorney Greg Mashburn’s office for consideration of possible criminal charges.

A spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office says the audit has been received, but not reviewed yet.

___

Information from: The Oklahoman, https://www.newsok.com

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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