Stephens County Courthouse front

The Board of Stephens County Commissioners met Monday morning, July 8, for their second meeting of the month in the Stephens County Courthouse to discuss funds, salaries, pay claims and the Stephens County Fair and Expo Center.

Hopes of a short meeting were quickly dashed despite the short list of items for the meeting, upon reaching the fifth item on their agendas.

According to Stephanie Robinson, assistant district attorney, Oklahoma state statutes set election board secretaries’ salaries based on active voters in the county, excluding inactive voters.

“The statute with the salaries set by the state election board requires that when considering the number of voters for Stephens County, we exclude the inactive voters,” Robinson said. “The voters excluding the inactive voters will take us to the 17,501-25,000 column. That puts the election board secretaries salary set at $35,846. It has previously been set at $43,662.”

The county is reimbursed by the state in the amount of the set salary, this case being $35,846, but if the commissioners wished to give the secretaries higher compensation, it must be done so outside of salary. This is usually done in the form of a stipend.

“I know all the elected officials pay is set by statute, but I also understand the hours and extra duties and the time that these ladies put in,” said District 3 Commissioner Russell Morgan.

The extra time and duties typically come in the form of their hours. The election board office rarely closes, if ever. Many of the members, including the secretaries, are present even on holidays, when the courthouse is closed.

Despite this, the commissioners were unsure whether or not they would even be able to give the secretaries above and beyond what the state set, fearing that the excise board would set the amount at the minimum.

“I think what (the excise board) wants is a recommendation,” said District 2 Commissioner Todd Churchman. “What they tend to lean toward, and I don’t want to speak for them, but … they are inclined to go with the state statute … If they disagree, they can set a number and that’s the end of it as far as budget and numbers go.”

Another of the concerns was to get this discussion done sooner rather than later, so that a decision could be reached either before or during the next budget meeting.

“Obviously we are wanting to address this now, because we are in the new fiscal year,” Robinson said. “The budget meeting isn't until August, so we are hoping to get this situation resolved as quickly as possible.”

Churchman suggested that this decision be made during the budget meeting in August, so that everyone could be involved in the process.

“The reality is we can go back to state statute now, and then at budget time, if they decide then, when we are all together, whether we add to it at that point,” Churchman said. “By law, we need to go back to what the state statute requires us to do, and then if there's anything extra and above that, it should be a joint effort at budget time to make that determination.”

Commissioner of District 1 Kreg Murphree made the motion to return the secretaries’ salary back to the state statute level, and the motion was seconded soon after.

Later on in the meeting, another item was brought to the table regarding incorrect payments made to other county offices in the courthouse. In response, the commissioners moved to increase temporary appropriations made to the offices before the budget was set.

While many of these issues are able to be rectified with contractual changes, Robinson made a statement regarding the state of communication within the courthouse.

Robinson plans on meeting with each of the commissioners individually and discussing communication in general and communications between the offices and the board of county commissioners.

“I think that this occurred due to a breakdown of communication,” she said. “A lot of times, there's a lot of people involved, and it's a board, it’s not an individual person. So I’m really hoping to visit with you and come up with a more concrete plan to effectively communicate with the other elected officials in the courthouse.”

Churchman wanted to make a statement in response during the meeting, before speaking with Robinson privately with the rest of the commissioners.

“All of these types of issues could be alleviated with contractual changes,” he said, “but we do need to be a little more forthcoming with information in certain areas, for sure.”

Other items discussed at the July 8 meeting included the acceptance of quotes for quarterly air conditioning and heating maintenance for the Health Department for the current fiscal year. 

The responsibilities of which include cleaning and adjusting automatic controls, testing for leaks, safety shut offs, wire tension and alignment, cleaning pumps and condensers and expansion of valves and refrigerant levels. 

All bids had the same list of responsibilities, so the only variable between bids was the price. The low bid was ultimately awarded to Davis Air Conditioning, of Duncan.

The commissioners also took care of five pay claims for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, four of which were tabled from last week’s meeting, as well as a rental agreement between the Stephens County Fair and Expo Center and Amanda Johnson for the 2 Hip Chicks Roadshow to be held in the Stephens County Arena July 19-20, 2019.

Last on the agenda was a discussion of the fairgrounds itself led by Morgan. After the rodeo, things have slowed down, but conditions have begun to dry enough for some projects to get done, according to Morgan.

Morgan then discussed the possibility of instating a dedicated position for air conditioner maintenance in the fairgrounds, rather than employing technicians on a project-by-project basis.