The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

April 24, 2013

Clerk combo: Small town of Jet has two city clerks

By Robert Barron, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

JET, Okla. — Jet Town Board had to move to a larger room Tuesday night to accommodate the crowd that came to hear discussion about closing city hall.

The original agenda posted April 19 stated the board would consider closing the town office. A corrected agenda posted later in the day April 19 stated the board would consider closing the office in the town of about 200 residents, or establishing days and hours it would be open. Another item was election of the town board chairman.

Jim Blackledge, town board chairman, was elected, with trustee Nina Brittain voting no.

Blackledge then proposed opening the town office 9 a.m. to noon and 1-3 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays. City clerk/treasurer Stephanie Carson would be present during those times.

He also suggested extra duties clerk Donna Keller could be present Monday and Wednesday at the same times, if she is available. Blackledge said the board could not dictate how Carson runs the office.

Trustee Matt Morris said with two clerks in place, it is not the purpose of the town to be unavailable to residents.

“We’ve never had two people in the office,” Morris said.

A resident in the audience said she thought the town only had one clerk. Blackledge explained Carson is utilities clerk/treasurer and was elected earlier this month. Keller, the special duties clerk, was appointed by the board. He said the special duties clerk is allowed by state statute.

Carson defeated Keller in the April 2 election. Blackledge said the clerks would work out how to share duties.

Morris read from an open meetings law booklet published by Oklahoma Press Association.

“As I read section 24A.6, bodies open less than 30 hours a week ... ‘(a) public body shall post and maintain written notice at its principal office and with the county clerk of the county,’” Morris said.

Morris said the statute states the notice shall:

• Designate days of the week when records are available for inspection, copying or mechanical reproduction.

• Set forth the name, mailing address and telephone number of the individual in charge of the records.

• Describe in detail the procedures for obtaining access to the records at least two days of the week, excluding Sunday.

“The doors should be open every day, and people should be able to come in and pay bills and inspect the records,” Morris said.

The office currently is open five hours a day, four days a week.

“There should be detailed procedures for accessing records at least two days a week,” Morris said.

“This is a new learning experience, but we will work through it,” Blackledge said.

Brittain said Carson should be paid for non-statutory duties. Pay for statutory duties is $35 per month, while pay for non-statutory is $475 per month.

“We can’t ask her to do non-statutory duties without paying her,” Brittain said.

 The office should remain open, she said.

Brittain said after the meeting Keller should have left when Carson was elected. She said the board can assign non-statutory duties by ordinance, but the elected clerk should receive both salaries.

“We’ve always had one person. Donna didn’t win, and they are upset,” she said.

Brittain said people are miffed because Carson was elected and the town board has “essentially thrown their votes in the trash.”

“Miss Keller should not be handling anything on the clerk/treasurer side. A city this size does not need two clerks,” Brittain said.

Prior to the election, Keller performed both jobs, she said.

“Why isn’t Stephanie doing both jobs and getting paid for it?” Brittain said.

Blackledge said this is the first time the board has had two clerks, one handling statutory requirements, including water bills and budgeting, while the other handles non-statutory jobs, which weren’t specified.

Keller cannot lose her job unless the board fires her, Blackledge said. This is Keller’s fourth term, he said, and she was first appointed when the former clerk left after audit issues involving about $10,000.

Blackledge said Morris did not understand all of the statutes applying to the clerk/treasurer’s job.

“Morris couldn’t understand why she (Carson) was only receiving that amount of money. The board cannot dictate rules to an elected official. The state statute doesn’t critique the information he’s trying to partake,” Blackledge said.

The clerk/treasurer must be available two days a week, which Blackledge said also is state law. Blackledge said he realizes it does not sound right and that the public expected Carson to undertake all the duties being done by Keller.

“One job gets paid more, and that’s why not many communities our size have one clerk to handle both responsibilities,” he said.

Blackledge said Carson does not know where all the information is. He said municipal secretaries are hard to find and difficult to train.

“In everybody’s mind, people thought she would get the whole enchilada and it didn’t happen. Now, they are trying to find ways to say it’s illegal, and it’s not,” Blackledge said. “I’m sorry there’s controversy there, and I feel sorry for Stephanie.”

Brittain also questioned whether new board members have been properly sworn in.

“Donna swore them in, and she had been voted out of office,” Brittain said.