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Candidates quizzed about streets fund controversy

By Vicky O. Misa | Vicky.misa@news-star.com | (405) 214-3962 | Twitter: @Vicky_NewsStar
The Shawnee News-Star

Last week PAVE (Pottawatomie Advocates for Voter Education) hosted a candidate forum for 10 hopefuls running for offices relating to the Shawnee City Commission.

Among several community-generated questions, residents wanted to know what stance the four mayoral and six ward candidates hold regarding support of an audit due to the city's handling of $7 million (specifically collected for use for Streets Fund projects) that was shifted elsewhere to balance the budget a few years ago.

Question: If elected, would you call for an investigative audit of city finances to determine the $7 million taken from the Street Fund and how it was spent? If yes, why? And, if no, why not?

Responses

• Mayoral candidate current Ward 1 City Commissioner Ed Bolt said, based on what he knows about the situation, he would say no.

“I think it's an expense that is not needed,” he said. “We have an audit every year.”

He said he has facilitated on meetings with the city manager, who at the time was finance director, and heard the explanation and he thinks he gave a very good explanation of that.

“We've managed our money a lot better,” he said. “The city was spending too much money; I don't think staff equipped the commissioners with good information.”

Also, he said part of the problem was the personnel costs at about 97 percent of the budget.

• Mayoral candidate downtown business owner Theresa Cody said she would consider it.

“If I was dissatisfied with the way — after I sit down and look over figures with everybody — and I felt there was a need,” she said. “Honestly, a forensic audit does so much more than just audit the city; it points out so many things — conflict of interest, and other issues.”

She said it would be probably be a good thing to do.

“Because it's only at a cost of $10,000 to do a specialized audit like that; I think it would be very important for all of us,” she said.

• Mayoral candidate current Ward 3 City Commissioner Ron Gillham Sr. said he looked at the situation extensively.

“I see that dating back to before (former City Manager) Justin Erickson probably,” he said. “Ninety-six percent of our total revenue coming in for the General Fund was being spent on personnel.”

He said over a period of time that's more of a chronic-type situation; it's not that visible, but it's also very difficult to mitigate.

“I would not look at that,” he said. “I've seen the explanations, I've looked at those. I've seen the opportunities and probabilities and how a creeping case like that can lead to the deficits we had.”

Money was shifted in various places, he said, in order to make this happen.

“Our budgets look good now; it's solid and the city's in fine shape,” he said. “Bringing in people to look at this now would be very destructive and probably serve no purpose.”

• Mayoral candidate local business owner Dean Hudlow said he would; he thinks the city needs a fresh start.

“I know there is some cost there,” he said. “I would definitely approve.”

• Ward 2 candidate GCTC instructor Elliot Shuler said if there was an overwhelming amount of support for an audit like that, he would look into it.

“I would not be opposed to it if there was evidence that was shown to me, I have no problem saying we need to look at this, we need to do an audit,” he said. “If there's no proof, no evidence of wrongdoing, if our city manager says our audit's good and everything looks good, I would not commit that kind of money to an expensive audit like that if there was no reason to look into it.”

• Ward 2 candidate former legislator Bob Weaver said he though an investigation might be appropriate if, as a commissioner, he didn't get a satisfactory answer as to what the questions of the citizens have been for several years on the condition of the budget.

“Yes, I would agree to supporting that audit if, in fact, looking at the budget and looking the numbers and having an explanation for management doesn't appear satisfactory,” he said.

• Ward 3 candidate Incumbent James Harrod said if it came down to a vote of the commission and he was the deciding vote, he would probably vote to do the audit.

“The reason why I would do it is it's time to get it cleared up,” he said. “I know the circumstances, I know how it happened, I know all the conditions and I've worked with a budget and financing for 50 years, so I know what happened.”

Things happen, he said.

“It was based on a cash accounting instead of accrued accounting of a different account,” he said. “So it came up the end of the year and there wasn't money there to balance the budget, so all the cash was there in the Street Fund, so it was transferred out to cover other expenses.”

• Ward 3 candidate Community Renewal's Travis Flood said without knowledge of the current situation, he could not say whether he would call for an audit.

“Based on what I know, based on what I've seen as a citizen, and conversations I've had with people in the city, I would not spend the extra money for doing an investigative audit,” he said. “Unless, for some reason, after becoming a commissioner I was able to see some information or be privy to knowledge that I was not able to be given as an average citizen.”

• Ward 4 candidate Incumbent Darren Rutherford said at this point he would not do it.

“That has been explained to me; I've seen it in black and white — where the money was, where it was spent,” he said. “It was not sent inappropriately; it has all been 100 percent accounted for; we know where it is.”

He said unless something comes up that he doesn't see forthcoming, he wouldn't support it.

“They are very expensive to have done,” he said.

• Ward 4 candidate local business owner LaDonna Bryce said she would want an audit done.

“You need the air cleared,” she said. “You need to know where everything stands, and who stands where.”

For more

Watch for more stories about questions and responses from candidates in The Shawnee News-Star or online at news-star.com.

PAVE to host forum for county, state seats

PAVE is hosting another forum at 7 p.m. today at Shawnee City Hall. Due to COVID-19 precautions, residents cannot attend the meeting; they must view the forum live on the city website at shawneeok.org; or on Vyve cable channel 3.

This forum will feature State Senate Dist. 17 candidates Brandon Baumgarten, Shane Jett and Ron Sharp; Senate Dist. 28 candidates Christian Ford, Mike Haines and Zack Taylor; Dist. 2 County Commissioner candidates Jason Evans and Randy Thomas; and sheriff candidates Mike Booth, Jeff Griffith and Ben Henderson.