Residents of Tryon didn’t know its police chief was using taxpayer dollars to buy personal guns and hunting equipment, or that he withdrew town funds from casino ATMs.
A state audit uncovered about 13% of the city’s annual budget was misappropriated, amounting to about $95,000. Several lessons are learned, many pointed out in the report released last week from State Auditor and Inspector Cindy Byrd.
This is the latest in a string of complicated audits completed by Byrd and her staff. Some have been high-profile and politicized; others have been more routine—as in the Tryon audit report.
In all, Byrd has risen above the rancor, politics and pressure. She’s kept a professional, forthright approach that demonstrates an independence critical for her office.
The Tryon situation wasn’t just about a rogue official making bad decisions. The audit pointed to the lack of due diligence by the overseeing board of trustees.
Small towns—especially those without an independent press watching meetings and poring over documents—are vulnerable to misdeeds. It becomes more incumbent on other watchdogs to ensure tax money is appropriately spent.
That’s the role of the state auditor and inspector. The only political mission of the office is to find and expose mismanagement, corruption and malfeasance.
Byrd showed this persistence in the aftermath of the investigative audit into Epic Charter Schools, which she calls the “largest abuse of taxpayer funds” in the state’s history. She was prompted to file a lawsuit after the founders refused to turn over some records.
The blowback came swiftly, including a failed proposal last year from Sen. Paul Rosino of Oklahoma City—a recipient of campaign donations from Epic’s founders—to water down the authority of the auditor and inspector. Her staff stood up to claims of bias.
Most recently, Byrd released an audit of the Oklahoma State Department of Health that revealed shortcuts, wasted funds and a complete disregard for state laws on how public funds are spent. In addition, the state never received $5.4 million in pandemic supplies promised by a vendor.
Attorney General John O’Connor told The Frontier online journalism outlet that his office would not release the audit findings. Byrd chose transparency, even placing it online with other audits conducted.
Audits are exactly what the public intends to be public and free of political influence.
Byrd has done an exemplary job at meeting that expectation. Pending is a first-of-its-kind investigative audit of the Oklahoma State Education Department requested by Gov. Kevin Stitt in September, 10 months after 22 Republican lawmakers called for an audit.
The agency is led by Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, who switched parties to run against Stitt for governor. The audit request is loaded with political undertones.
We encourage Byrd to handle the audit in the same above-board manner as the other topnotch audits completed by her and the staff.