The Cleveland County Board of Commissioners could vote to dissolve the county’s Budget Board, a move that has drawn criticism from local elected officials concerned about transparency.

The board is made up of eight elected officials who each vote on the budget, but if dissolved, major financial decisions will narrow to the county commissioners and the county’s excise board, a board of three appointed members. The resolution appears as a discussion and possible action item on the agenda for 1 p.m. Monday.

On the budget board are all three county commissioners: District 1 Rod Cleveland, District 2 Darry Stacy and District 3 Harold Haralson. County Assessor Douglas Warr, County Clerk Tammy Belinson, County Treasurer Jim Reynolds, County Sheriff Chris Amason and District Court Clerk Marilyn Williams also serve on the board.

Excise board members — one resident from each district — are appointed by one vote each from the district court judiciary, the Oklahoma Tax Commission and the county commission, Belinson told The Transcript Friday afternoon.

Under the current budget board system, county funds are budgeted based on needs assessments performed by county department heads. Preliminary budgets are presented to the board for which all eight members have a vote. The commission is responsible to see that funds are spent within the budget and by purchasing laws, Belinson said. The excise board also approves the budget.

Cleveland County Treasurer Jim Reynolds is vice chair of the budget board, and said the county has operated one for 34 years, forming the body after a statewide commissioner scandal made national news. Several county commissioners pleaded guilty or were charged with financial crimes in 1981, according to news reports at the time.

“There’s a reason budget boards are used more for the larger counties,” Reynolds said. “It gives more oversight with all the elected officials.”

Reynolds said he was puzzled as to why the commissioners would end a budget process that has an added layer of transparency and provides everyone a seat at the table.

“I’ve been here for 10 years and we have worked well together,” he said. “There’s $20 million currently sitting in the capital account that can be used for worthwhile projects, or can be used for frivolous things, wasted things.”

Reynolds said there have been projects that were not immediately adopted by the board for which some commissioners have sought approval.

Recently, Stacy introduced the idea for a parking garage to increase parking for the courthouse. There was the possibility that employees would be charged for parking, Reynolds said. The board requested a study on the parking garage, while Reynolds suggested expanding an existing lot to double parking for less cost.

“The budget board has put the brakes on a number of things that would squander taxpayer money,” Reynolds said. “That’s what it all boils down to in general.”

Reynolds was at a loss as to why the commission would consider dissolving the board, but said he began hearing rumors that the commission was considering it a couple of months ago after the board “put the brakes” on the proposed parking garage last September.

County Assessor Doug Warr said the county commission has agreed to do a feasibility study if it wants to move the parking garage forward for approval from the board. The cost of the garage could reach up to $15 million, he said.

Warr also opposed the idea of dissolving the board.

“Each of us on the budget board brings something different to the table,” He said. “It’s the only time all eight of us get together, so you’re going to lose that line of communication.”

Commissioners respond

Cleveland said Friday he was perplexed by the resolution to dissolve the budget board. He told The Transcript that there was no additional information stating the reasons for it in the commissioner’s packet.

The first he had heard of it was “back in January, maybe,” he said.

“I was asked by Mark Brayley if I supported dissolving the budget board,” Cleveland said. “I told him, ‘No, I don’t have any reason. What are the reasons why?’ I didn’t get an answer on that.”

Brayley works for Stacy, Cleveland said.

Stacy, who serves as chair of the Cleveland County Commission, said dissolving the budget board eliminates duplication and increases transparency. The county has both a budget board and excise board, he pointed out.

Budget board meetings, though public, are not held at the board of commissioners building and are not well attended, he said. Excise board meetings are held at the commissioner’s board room where they are “much better attended by the public.” Budget board meetings are held across the street from the commissioner’s building, at 201 S. Jones.

“It also gives us more oversight from an excise board because they play a little more of an oversight role in that budget,” he said. “I think that gives us more of a look from the outside and as well as more transparent and easier access to the public.”

Belinson said the board would have “no problem” relocating its meetings to the commissioners boardroom.

Stacy viewed the budget board as a duplication because the excise board “already approves the budget,” he said.

“Elected officials, whether it be commissioners or anybody else, that’s their budget to the excise board and they still have to answer to the will of the people,” Stacy said.

Stacy said his decision to place the resolution on the agenda had nothing to do with any project, and that he had been considering it for several months.

District 3 Commissioner Harold Haralson did not return a call for comment.

Mindy Wood covers City Hall news and notable court cases for The Transcript. Reach her at mwood@normantranscript.com or 405-416-4420.

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