Editor's Note: This story was updated at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 6.
The investigative audit the city of Claremore requested exactly one year ago is still ongoing.
State Auditor and Inspector Cindy Byrd said Monday, “We have been asked to do a special investigative audit and we are in the process of that. It is our standard procedure not to discuss that until the audit is final.”
“We have many audits going at this time, and as we get into an audit something may come up, so we generally don’t like to give a deadline because we really don’t know,” Byrd said.
Claremore Mayor Bill Flanagan and City Manager Jim Thomas held a press conference Aug. 6, 2018, to announce the city’s intention to invite state auditors to review city finances with regards to electricity rates and sales tax. The city council subsequently and unanimously approved the audit.
The audit was called in response to a citizen’s petition to have city finances investigated following multiple high utility bills.
The petition called for an investigative audit of the city’s books from July 1, 2013, through June 30, 2017, in order to review possible irregularities in the city budget, review possible misappropriations, review any misuse of funds and review the city manager's contract.
The petition failed three times to meet the required number of valid signatures by registered voters within the city, but it received press coverage from many local news sources. During the press conference Flanagan said, “There is a lot of misinformation and misleading information … We figured the quickest way and the best way to straighten this matter out is to have the state auditor come in.”
In the year since, residents who signed the petition say they are still frustrated by high electric bills.
“After all the hard work, standing in the sun on the corner getting signatures, and promises from Cindy Byrd, nothing has been done. In fact, what has been done since then is a 17 cents per KWH increase on our bills for fuel adjustment since April 15,” Mary Alice Baker said.
The 17-cent increase was due to changes in how Grand River Dam Authority bills the city. The average resident may have seen an increase by one or two cents per KWH, Claremore Power and Light Director Larry Hughes said.
“Residents’ bills will go back to what they were in April when we complete the cost of service study,” Hughes said. “It was unfortunate timing for us by GRDA and it definitely is not long-term.”
Lisa Lewis said, “Something has got to give – my electric bill has gone outrageously high and the many power surges killed an outlet behind my refrigerator.”
“Glad this is happening and hope to find out what’s really going on. If people are skimming money and/or inflating bills I hope they repay us in some way,” Matt Taylor said.
Nicole Griffin said, “I would like to know why the audit still is not done. We are tired of bad water, high electric bills and power going out for no reason at all. We are tired of the city manager not caring about the citizens of Claremore. We want answers. Why hasn’t the audit been completed? No reason it should not have been in a year.”
City Manager Jim Thomas said, "Mayor Flanagan and I have both pressed the state auditor and requested the audit be expedited."
"There are several other higher priority issues facing the state and I don't have any control over when they do the audit," Thomas said. "I can't force the state auditor's office to do their job, but they have been pressed."
He reiterated the statements he made last year, regarding factual inaccuracies in the language of the petition.
"There is nothing here," Thomas said. "There has been no misappropriation of money. The gears aren't spinning by themselves. We don't collect 9.3 percent sales tax. We collect 3 percent. The allegations are still without merit."
More information will be provided on the audit as it becomes available.