BERNICE, Okla. - A state audit accuses town officials in Bernice of questionable, unjust and possibly illegal practices when it comes to conducting the people's business.
The audit, which was released on Thursday, said the town had not properly published its penalties ordinances since 1977 and says "the municipal court should not have collected fines of more than $50."
The audit estimates the town court had over-collected more than $106,000 in fines in the last 34 years.
The report also called into question the town's policy regarding water bills.
New water customers are required to pay outstanding bills owed by former residents before they can receive water service.
The report called this policy "highly questionable and unjust, if not illegal" and said the town was opening itself up to a civil lawsuit.
The audit also found the town did not have enough members on its board of adjustment.
The state requires five members, but the town only had three.
The audit also said the town did not have a proper appeals process because members who make up the appeals board "is the exact same group of individuals that made the decision that is being appealed" and said the town did not follow state law when adopting its zoning code.
The town's attorney, David Jones, submitted a response to the findings, which is included in the audit.
Jones said the town agrees with some of the audit's findings, but disagrees with others.
The town strongly defended its water bill policy, saying it could find no law that prohibited it from requiring outstanding water bills to be paid before the service was turned on for a new customer.
The town said the current policy allow them to "keep down the cost of water to all Bernice citizens."
When it comes to the Open Meeting and Open Records acts, the town said it will "eliminate any action that could even be characterized as questionable.'"
The town also said it published its penal codes properly.
Still, Jones said the Town of Bernice "would carefully consider (and likely implement) each recommendation contained" in the report.
Steve Miller is the Bernice resident who requested the audit.
Miller is battling the Town of Bernice in court over a small piece of land on his property.
The lawsuit, which has been going on for two years, is why Miller began taking a closer look at how the town's business was being conducted.
"That process got pretty ugly," he said.
Miller hopes his efforts and the audit's findings will inspire district attorneys to enforce the state Open Meeting and Open Records acts if there is a violation.
"Those are the two laws that empower citizens," said Miller. "They are the two laws that I think can eliminate a lot of fraud, a lot of corruption."
Read the full audit here (http://bit.ly/HEPO6F)
Copyright 2012 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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