Auditors find overpayments in Okmulgee County
OKMULGEE — State auditors have uncovered evidence that Okmulgee County's elected officials have received $382,403 in salary overpayments in violation of state law, The Oklahoman has learned.
"I'm shocked," said Okmulgee County Treasurer Vonna Lampkins, one of the elected officials found to have received excessive payments. "I'm glad I decided to keep my 2011 Nissan."
State Auditor & Inspector Cindy Byrd sent a letter to Okmulgee County District Attorney Carol Iski on Wednesday notifying her of the overpayments.
The excessive salaries, which exceeded the maximum amounts allowed by state law, occurred over a six-year period from fiscal year 2014 to the present, Byrd told the district attorney. The Oklahoman received a copy of the letter through an Oklahoma Open Records Act request.
Okmulgee County elected officials who held the offices of county commissioner, sheriff, treasurer, county clerk, court clerk and county assessor during that time period received the overpayments.
This is the second time in less than a year that officials have discovered elected officials were overpaid in one of Oklahoma's 77 counties.
A special investigative audit released by the state auditor in January revealed that Grady County elected officials were overpaid by $727,000 over a 10-year period. District attorney Jason Hicks requested that audit after questions were raised by an excise board member. An investigation of those overpayments is pending.
Maximum salaries that elected county officials can be paid in a particular county are determined by a complicated formula and then approved by county commissioners.
The state's normal audit process did not review those calculations in the past, but Byrd has asked her audit staff to examine how counties made those calculations in light of what happened in Grady County.
Byrd said she could not discuss the Okmulgee County audit findings because that audit is not yet complete. The audit staff is not finished examining how some other counties performed their calculations, she said.
Although Byrd wasn't talking about the Okmulgee County audit findings, they were prompting plenty of discussion Wednesday among Okmulgee County officials.
Sheriff Eddy Rice said he learned of the overpayments through a Wednesday afternoon meeting with the district attorney.
"We're trying to get a game plan together and move forward," Rice said.
Rice said the district attorney informed him that the overpayments appeared to have resulted from a former county assessor making a "misinterpretation" in how to fill out a form.
"We've started an investigation," the sheriff said. "The DA doesn't feel like it was an intentional act."
Intentional or not, it hurts, he said.
"My reputation is staked on doing what's right," he said. "That hurts every single one of us."
"We'll get it corrected by whatever the recommendation that the DA decides we need to do," he said. "There ain't going to be any squabbles. It is what it is, and it will be corrected."
Lampkins voiced similar sentiments.
"This was based on an error, not wrongdoing, and we are working on it to get it corrected," she said.
County Commission Chairman Robert Hardridge said county officials plan to meet Monday to get more information.