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Grady County payroll fiasco spills over into state auditor's race

From left: Charlie Prater and Cindy Byrd
From left: Charlie Prater and Cindy Byrd

The Republican runoff race for state auditor and inspector heated up this week with candidate Charlie Prater criticizing his opponent for failing to detect the suspected decadelong payment of excessive salaries to eight Grady County elected officials.

"My opponent, Cindy Byrd, is in charge of county audits for the State Auditor's Office," said Prater, who is in an Aug. 28 runoff race with Byrd for the Republican nomination. "Reviewing payroll is one of the most basic and fundamental elements of any financial audit."

Prater, of Edmond, was referring to reports in The Oklahoman last week disclosing that a special investigative audit had been requested after it was discovered that Grady County's elected officials apparently had been overpaid by as much as $20,000 a year. The salary overpayments are believed to date back as far as 2008 or 2009.

"According to the audits posted by the auditor's office, Grady County has been audited every consecutive year prior to 2017," Prater said. "If these overpayments existed in any of the prior audits, then where was the oversight?"

Byrd, of Coalgate, said a performance or investigative audit of Grady County could have identified the overpayments, but that wasn't the type of audit the office was tasked with performing.

"We did a financial statement audit on Grady County," Byrd said. "That's the kind of audit that's been performed because of the federal funds that they receive as well as the bond issue that they have related to the jail."

An audit of the calculations used to determine pay for elected county officials is not something that is required in a financial statement audit, she said.

"That is more of a performance type audit issue," Byrd said. "We do audit payroll as a whole there, but not specifically that statute. If we were doing a different type of audit there, that might be something that was performed, but not for a financial statement audit."

"We would love to be able to go in and do comprehensive audits on everyone we audit, but that's not what the statutes allow and it's not what we're funded to do," she said.

Byrd then took a shot at her opponent, saying that it appeared from the profile on Prater's campaign website that he has not performed any audits in the last 35 years.

"So he doesn't understand what types of audits there are. He doesn't understand what's required," she said. "In 2008, all auditing standards changed as a result of the whole WorldCom/Enron financial scandal. Everything changed at that point. So he's probably confused as to what's required."

State Auditor Gary Jones said the salary formula for county officeholders is not typically looked at during a financial statement audit because it is not considered a high-risk area. Auditors would have looked into it if concerns had been brought to their attention, Jones said.

Jones said a private CPA firm performs a financial statement audit on his office every year and the office undergoes a peer review audit every three years by the National Association of State Auditors, Comptrollers and Treasurers.

"We have received top scores every time," Jones said.

Prater said the auditor's office needs to do a better job of doing the types of audits that will detect waste and abuse.

"We've got so many different audits that we're doing that everything slips through the crack," he said. "To go years and nobody even checks? Come on, you've got to do better than that."

Prater disputed Byrd's remark that he apparently hadn't done an audit in 35 years.

"That's not entirely true, at all," Prater said, adding that he audited acquisition targets for a large financial services company.

Prater said he did that work until 2001, and has done consulting work since then in which he did auditing work for private equity companies looking at possible investment targets.

The winner of the Republican runoff will face Libertarian candidate John Yeutter of Tahlequah in the November general election.

Related Photos
<p>Charlie Prater</p>

Charlie Prater

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-7a80218c1bea213c069a80bfa47f6ae5.jpg" alt="Photo - Charlie Prater " title=" Charlie Prater "><figcaption> Charlie Prater </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-849a038f0523e71f9a7133393d9dadf0.jpg" alt="Photo - Cindy Byrd " title=" Cindy Byrd "><figcaption> Cindy Byrd </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-d670f1c1a1fe7cd3562b7a6a626377d9.jpg" alt="Photo - From left: Charlie Prater and Cindy Byrd" title="From left: Charlie Prater and Cindy Byrd"><figcaption>From left: Charlie Prater and Cindy Byrd</figcaption></figure>
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 ›

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