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State audit uncovers free utilities for town officials

PAOLI, Okla._An audit, initiated in response to a citizens’ petition, shows the Board of Trustees in Paoli, Oklahoma, received free utilities.

Paoli, a small town in Garvin County near Paul’s Valley with a population of 649 during the 2000 census, is the subject of a recent state audit after residents expressed concerns over free utilities, nepotism and a variety of other violations.

“The Board Members and employees for the Town of Paoli and the Paoli Municipal Authority appear to have benefited from a vote to exclude town employees from being required to pay for utility service. The meeting minutes both enacting, and then later rescinding, the free utility service benefit failed to mention that board members were also benefiting from the ‘employee’ benefit,” the report stated.

Residents were concerned after members of the Board of Trustees voted to exclude themselves from being billed for water, sewer and trash services in May 2014. Mayor Juanita Mata explained that on July 14, 2014, a motion was passed to exempt town employees from being billed for utilities; the motion passed unanimously.

A report provided by Paoli shows that each of the five board members were either not billed, or billed and had the amount adjusted off from August 2014 until January 2015. The audit shows Mayor Mata was billed $61.94 for utility services on August 1, 2014, and that amount was removed from her bill the same day. A similar occurrence happened for four board members.

On January 28, 2015, the Board of Trustees voted on and approved a measure to “secede employee’s receiving free water.” The mayor and four other board members received anywhere between $217.80 and $421.29 in exempted utility payments. The total came to $1,728.98.

Robin Newton, the town’s independent financial, asked the board about their exemption because the measure they passed only stated town employees and not board members.

Residents also brought up concerns of nepotism when Londa Beckelheimer, the town’s clerk/treasurer, appointed the mayor’s daughter as a deputy clerk/treasurer.

Garvin County District Attorney Greg Mashburn’s office says they have not reviewed the audit report yet.

Additionally, the audit addresses concerns that the town violated the Public Competitive Bidding Act and Records Management Act, collected fees improperly for traffic violations, failed to read water meters, falsified water testing records, theft of gasoline by a former employee and unpaid payroll advances. You can read the audit report here.

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