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McCurtain County commissioners seek assessor's ouster

IDABEL — A district attorney's investigation is underway into whistleblower allegations of maladministration involving McCurtain County Assessor Stan Lyles, 49, of Broken Bow.

County commissioners have asked prosecutors to look into ouster proceedings against Lyles.

The assessor has been accused of running a loose office where employees were often absent and sometimes "drunk on the job," but were not reprimanded for their behavior, according to an article in a Sunday edition of the McCurtain Daily Gazette, that cited an unnamed whistleblower.

Employees got behind on their jobs because of their poor work habits, causing the county and local school districts to miss out on huge amounts of money because new construction wasn't being added to the property tax rolls in a timely manner, the informant alleged.

"Periodically, our internet and phones are turned off due to nonpayment, causing production to stop and additional dollars for reconnection fees," the Gazette quoted the whistleblower as stating.

Lyles told The Oklahoman he had been advised by his attorney not to comment on the allegations.

The assessor did say that he filed an abstract with the Oklahoma Tax Commission June 11 that shows a nearly $30 million increase in the total net assessed locally valued property subject to tax in McCurtain County. The assessor's proposed total value for 2018 would be $200,107,362 compared to $171,661,213 in 2017, according to documents filed with the Oklahoma Tax Commission. The state equalization board is expected to consider certifying the 2018 numbers Monday.

An investigation into Lyles' administration was launched after the whistleblower sent emails to McCurtain County District Attorney Mark Matloff about a month ago detailing allegations.

Matloff forwarded the emails to county commissioners, who asked the prosecutor to look into Lyles' possible ouster.

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter appointed Emily Redman, the district attorney for Bryan, Atoka and Coal counties, to investigate the case after Matloff stepped aside due to a conflict of interest. Matloff said he couldn't be involved because his job as McCurtain County's district attorney requires him to represent both county commissioners and the assessor's office in civil matters.

Redman said she has asked an investigator from her office to conduct the initial investigation. After the investigator makes a preliminary assessment, Redman said she will decide whether the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation needs to be brought in to investigate further.

"We don't really have a lot of information yet," she said.

Lyles, a Democrat, is completing his twelfth year as McCurtain County assessor, a spokeswoman for the county election board said. Lyles is up for re-election but did not draw an opponent this year, so he is scheduled to begin another term in January.

Bruce Willingham, publisher of the McCurtain Daily Gazette, said the newspaper looked into the whistleblower's complaints and confirmed several areas of concern.

For example, the newspaper checked with the county clerk's office and found Lyles had filed no time and attendance reports for employees since January 2017. The day after the newspaper reported the oversight, Lyles bulked filed reports dated from January 1017 through May 2018, Willingham said.

"The thing that has probably brought this to a head is the rapid growth of the Hochatown area," Willingham said of a town near Lake Broken Bow in far Southeastern Oklahoma. "They're several months behind in getting things entered ... It ends up being a huge amount of money when entire cabin developments, for example, don't get put in."

Randy Ellis

For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two... Read more ›