RYAN, Okla._Many residents in the town of Ryan are fighting with City Hall over their utility bills as a result of an embezzlement scandal involving the town's former treasurer.
As we reported last Thursday, results of a state audit showed Kathy Laskowski admitted she took as much as $94,000 out of customers' utility bill payments when she was in office from April 2013 until she resigned July 2015. Since then, the town has been working on its own to dig out of the financial hole.
November, they sent out letters telling residents to bring documentation of their utility bill payments to City Hall by November 10, so they could make everyone's accounts current. For those who didn't meet the deadline, the town began cutting off power on November 20, which has created a steady parade of angry customers.
People were understandably upset, and town officials say they don't like the idea of cutting off power, but it's something they need to do in order to get a handle on how to get caught up on payments to their utility providers.
"I'm not angry, I am frustrated," said longtime Ryan resident Johnny Rodriguez.
Rodriguez is among many in the town whose power has been cut off as a result of the financial scandal.
"A $600 bill and I went to pay it and they say I owe $1,400 and something. And there are people right there at City Hall right now arguing about why they have to pay this when it has already been paid," he said.
Ryan Mayor Terry Grantham says that is what makes the situation difficult is that, because of the embezzled funds, they don't know who has paid and who hasn't.
"If they don't have proof that they have paid their bills and a receipt, which many of them don't, that is where the difficult time comes with our people. We have had to give them the benefit of the doubt on everything," Mayor Grantham explained.
Mayor Grantham says the town had a two signature approval process with bills, payments and other allocations of funds to be signed off on by the treasure and the mayor. But when Laskowski was treasurer, there was a rubber stamp with the mayor's signature.
"There will be no more stamps in this office as long as I am here, but the fact is just keep a real good control on it from a number of people instead of just one," Mayor Grantham said.
Mayor Grantham says the town's bills were all three to four months behind.
"Our trash, our electrical, our water…we were behind in everything. But we did not know that as Council, but we worked hard to catch up on everything. I know Southwest Power, the first check I wrote, was $54,000," Mayor Grantham explained.
Mayor Grantham says since Laskowski resigned in July, the town has been working to pay back bills and finally broke even with about $40,000 left in the utility fund. Mayor Grantham says right now, they are not looking back but are focused on fixing the problems they face ahead of them.
"Of course we would like to see justice done or whatever needs to be done to make things right, but our main focus now is to carry on and to go forward with the town taking care of our town and taking care of our town's people," Mayor Grantham said.
Mayor Grantham says they are talking with the town's attorney about separating the town clerk and treasurer positions once again so that no one person has all the power. That election will be coming up in February 2016.
No charges have been filed against Laskowski at this time. We went to her home and her husband said she had no comment on the investigation. We also contacted District Attorney Jason Hicks, he says he is reviewing the audit and doing additional research.