Grady County salary fiasco leaves sheriff 'ticked'
CHICKASHA — Grady County Sheriff Jim Weir is "a little ticked."
Weir was notified this week that his salary was being cut by about $20,000 a year.
That would be enough to tick off most people, but Weir says that's not what has upset him most.
What has Weir irritated is the damage to his reputation — damage that he says is unfair.
Weir was one of eight Grady County elected officials notified this week that their salaries were being cut from about $80,000 a year to $60,775 a year.
The cuts were ordered by the Grady County Excise Board after it was discovered that the county's elected officials apparently had been overpaid for years — perhaps since 2008 or 2009. Receiving salary cuts were the sheriff, three county commissioners, treasurer, county clerk, court clerk and assessor.
"Yeah, I'm mad," Weir said Thursday. "The general public is going to think — 'There you go again. The elected officials are probably in on that.' And we'll probably never be able to convince them otherwise."
Perhaps a little history might make the public more understanding.
Weir said when he was first elected sheriff in 2013, he went to a budget board meeting and asked for a cut in salary so he could have funds available to give raises to his deputies.
Weir is a retired Oklahoma City police officer and said he felt he was in a position to make that sacrifice because he receives retirement income.
"They hammered me," Weir said. "They said, 'You can't do that. Your pay is set by state statute. It's law. You have to accept it. You can't deviate from it.'"
Weir said he accepted the decision and worked out a budget that enabled deputies to get a raise, anyway.
Weir said he has seen his pay go up over the years and assumed it must be right, since he had been told it was all determined by state statute.
The sheriff said he wants to know what happened, just like everyone else.
Grady County District Attorney Jason Hicks has asked State Auditor Gary Jones to try to figure that out.
Jones said the maximum salary that elected county officials can receive in Oklahoma is calculated using a complex statutory formula that takes into consideration things like taxable property valuations, millage rates and population.
Jones said most counties have a budget-maker who pulls the information together and performs the calculations. Sometimes the person is a county employee, and sometimes the person is hired from outside.
The person who performed those calculations in Grady County is unclear at this point. The Oklahoman contacted some county officials who might know, but they said they had been asked to refer questions to the district attorney while the investigation is pending.
Chickasha accountant Chris Angel is the person who performed the calculations that determined county officials had been overpaid, but Angel said that was the only time he has been asked to calculate salaries for the county's elected officials.
"I don't know how it got to this point," Angel said. "I feel terrible. It's going to be difficult on people."
No determination has been made yet as to how much current and former county officials have been overpaid over the years, but Sheriff Weir said he will pay the money back if that's what is required.
"Somebody's got to pay it back because it was the tax money of the citizens," he said.
Weir said it's possible insurance could pay the money back, depending on who made the mistake but said it's also possible the elected officials will be asked to pay.
"I've already talked to my wife. If we were overpaid, we were overpaid. We'll pay it back — whatever we have to do to make it right for the county," Weir said. "I want the person responsible for this to be held accountable."
The sheriff said repaying overpayments could be a real hardship for some county officials.
"We've got some elected officials, that if it started in '08 and it's gone all the way until now — they're looking at maybe $100,000 ... They don't have that money," he said.
"This won't devastate my family," he said. "I mean it will be a hardship for the next few years and that's something we'll deal with."
While it's possible the new salary calculations could be wrong, Sheriff Weir said he has talked with sheriffs in similar-sized counties the past couple days and is convinced Grady County officials probably were overpaid.
The sheriff said he has recently seen the formula and can understand how someone might make a mistake.
"My wife's an accountant, and she looked at it and went, 'Oh, my God,'" Weir said.
Weir said his wife told him she could figure out the formula, but it would require her to go back and determine millages, ad valorem taxes, population numbers and a bunch of other things.
"It's complicated," he said. "I could see how somebody (could make a mistake), but I don't see how they could make a mistake year after year after year."