- Published on Tuesday, 10 January 2012 16:42
No charges following resignations
Daily Elk Citian
Three of Cordell's top-ranking officials have resigned after the city discovered they were months late on their residential utility payments and had somehow avoided landing on the late-notice and cutoff lists.
Police Chief Russel Boecker, City Treasurer Carrie Davis and City Clerk Kristen Lee resigned their posts last week after serving a two-week, with-pay suspension ordered by Mayor Alex Damon. All three have agreed to pay the outstanding amounts, which together total "thousands" of dollars, Damon said.
The mayor would not specify individual amounts, citing privacy considerations. He did, however, say that the three amounts were "approximately in the same ballpark."
One account was 12 months in arrears, while the other two individuals had paid an amount as recently as this month.
Both Davis and Lee had access to the billing system. It is unclear how Boecker made sure his account remained active.
"I'm not exactly sure how the police chief was included in this unless it was just understood that they wouldn't report his name," said Damon.
The city's utilities billing system flags outstanding accounts, allowing the city to work with the customer on a payment plan, he said.
"Any regular account that comes up after 90 days or more past due, we get detailed information out and figure out how to take care of those amounts in arrears," said Damon. "These three did not make it onto that list."
Damon said he has contacted municipal employment attorneys in Oklahoma City for guidance, and also the district attorney's office, who declined to investigate and suggested the matter be handled internally.
"It is my belief - I know these people pretty well - I honestly believe that it didn't start intentionally. I think it started accidentally, and I honestly believe that all three had every intention of repaying these amounts," said Damon.
The city's police department is not investigating the incidents. The city has double-checked the meter readings and have not discovered any discrepancies there.
"We have had conversations with them, and again, that's sort of where I've come up with my gut feeling that none of this was really intentional or done with malice. I believe that they all had intentions of making remittance and getting the city paid back," Damon said. "What we're doing now is arranging the terms for these outstanding bills to be paid."
He will discuss the matter with the New Cordell Utility Authority today, and expects the three to be placed on a short-term payback schedule.
"In the event these utilities are not paid back in full in the very near future, then we'll simply disconnect their utilities as we would any other customer," said Damon.
The issue was discovered during a regular review of the city's outstanding utility contracts. Damon sees the incident as an isolated issue, but one worthy of scrutiny.
"Of course, anytime something like this happens, we will look at our policies, and we'll review those, and we will put some practices in place to ensure this doesn't happen again," he said.
The elected positions of treasurer and clerk made up half of Cordell's City Hall workforce. Remaining is the deputy clerk, who has been temporarily elevated to interim clerk, and a customer service representative.
Along with his mayoral duties, Damon works as a city administrator.
Four full-time police officers remain on the job, and the city has called up reserve officers to fill the void left by Boecker's departure. Damon said the city will not ask the Washita County Sheriff's Department for law enforcement assistance.