Braman hires legal council after financial records are deleted
Members of the Braman Board of Trustees have turned over the town's financial records to a major accounting firm and hired Oklahoma municipal judge Stephen R. Haynes to serve as the town's special legal counsel after discovering that financial records have been deleted from the town's online budget management programs.
In a special meeting of the board held Wednesday, May 1, trustees voted unanimously to hire Crawford and Associates, PLC to review the town's 2017 – 2018 financial records. Trustees discovered that the town's audit of that fiscal year was incomplete after applying for a grant to repair water lines.
FULL AUDIT ON THE WAY
The town's 2017 – 2018 financial audit, now almost one year overdue, might not have been completed if the town hadn't wanted to repair its water distribution system.
In the Wednesday meeting, Mayor Marv Sandbek said he had learned “through conversation” that former Municipal Clerk Sandra Barrows and an employee with the Northern Oklahoma Development Authority had recently worked to apply for an infrastructure grant through the Oklahoma Water Resources Board. He said the two “made a determination” to pull the grant from the OWRB's listing and “remake it” into a CDB grant, a federal program overseen by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
One of the requirements for a town to receive a CDB grant is that it must submit its latest financial audit to HUD. When the grant was taken off of the OWRB rolls and moved to HUD's, officials discovered that the town's audit was still not done.
The town has not conducted a full audit in “years,” Sandbek said. In the past, the town has used “agreed upon practices” in place of a full audit. Under an AUP agreement, an auditor or CPA would only look at the financial records chosen by the town's board.
“By statute, the AUP has to be submitted within 30 days of the close of your fiscal year, and for whatever reason, it was not,” Sandbek said. “We discovered, kind of accidentally, that we were not current.”
In order to remain eligible for the grant, the AUP would have to have been completed by May 1, a deadline that has already passed.
At a previous meeting, Trustee James Lunn said the AUP was not completed on time because the town clerk was “unable” to get some financial records to Kimberlye R. Mayer, who had previously served as the town's CPA. Mayer said she could not complete the AUP by May 1 due to prior obligations, which prompted trustees to hire Crawford and Associates.
But Crawford and Associates won't just be finishing the overdue AUP. According to Sandbek, the firm will be conducting a full audit. At this time, trustees do not know when the audit will be completed, but Sandbek said he anticipates to hear preliminary results in two weeks.
According to the Crawford and Associates website, the 25-person firm was established in 1984 with a “mission of promoting accountability and transparency in state and local government in an effort to help maintain and enhance public trust.” The firm, based out of Oklahoma City, has a clientele of “state and local governments and other organizations around the world,” according to its website.
COMPUTER ACCESS RESTORED; FINDINGS “GRIM”
In the Wednesday meeting, Sandbek announced that the board had regained access to the town's online financial records after former Municipal Clerk Sandra Barrows allegedly resigned without handing over computer passwords. Sandbek said that the board was able to “jailbreak” the town's computer on Tuesday, April 30 with the help of Scott Jennings, a local information and technology technician.
According to Sandbek, Jennings was able to “backup” all of the data on the computer to an external hard-drive. That hard-drive, Sandbek said, is being kept in a fireproof safe that is not on town-owned property.
“We achieved what we wanted to do, which was to get in,” Sandbek said.
Included in the data recovery project were files from Quickbooks and Excel, the computer programs used to manage the city's payroll and budget.
After reviewing the recovered documents, Sandbek said he discovered that files in both programs had been deleted. Sandbek was unsure of how many had been deleted.
But even though the files were deleted from the software programs, they're not gone.
According to Sandbek, Jennings was able to recover the deleted files and save them to the external hard-drive. Sandbek said the documents “could be important later.”
Trustees also gained access to the town's safe when they found another key located in the office. They allege that Barrows did not return her key when she resigned.
Sandbek said that the successful data recovery effort puts the board “close” to having access to all of the town's financial records.
“If we're not all the way there, we're close,” he said. “We are into the software to the level that we need to be. Do we have more to discover? I think so. But we are doing that daily.”
From what records he has looked at so far, Sandbek said that the town's financial standing is “grim.”
“We've been overspending and under-earning for a long time. We have been spending far more than we make,” he said. “From what I have determined, we have more obligations than resources.”
Sandbek said he could not give exact financial figures at this time, as more research is needed.
“This is a case of very, very poor fiscal management,” he said. “Where did the money go?”
TOWN HIRES SPECIAL LEGAL COUNSEL
Following nearly an hour of deliberation in executive session, the board hired longtime Oklahoma municipal judge Stephen R. Haynes to serve as the town board's special legal counsel.
In Wednesday's meeting, the board convened in executive session to discuss the appointment of Haynes, who is currently conducting an investigation for the city of Blackwell into alleged improper contracts made by municipal officers.
Sandbek said that Haynes's investigative skills are “second to none,” adding that Haynes “knows what to look for and when to look for it.”
“He's what we need right now,” Sandbek said. “He knows how to help communities like us.”
Haynes declined to comment on his hiring or any other aspects of his arrangement with the board.
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