County Commissioners Meeting

From left, Cleveland County Commissioners Rod Cleveland, Rusty Grissom and Darry Stacy listen during the commissioners’ meeting Tuesday at the county courthouse.

Cleveland County Commissioners on Tuesday voted to reinstate the County Budget Board, which was dissolved in 2021.

The Budget Board is made up of all eight county elected officials who each vote on the county’s total budget before the county’s Excise Board and all three county commissioners approve it.

District 2 Commissioner Darry Stacy and then District 3 Commissioner Harold Haralson voted to dissolve it despite protests from county residents and several elected officials at the time.

Critics said it decreased transparency because the appointed three-member Excise Board meant fewer eyes on the budget and members were not subject to voter accountability.

District 1 Commissioner Rod Cleveland voted not to dissolve it and it was Cleveland who, with the support of the new District 3 Commissioner, Rusty Grissom, brought it back Tuesday in a 2-1 vote. Stacy voted against the motion to reinstate.

Both Cleveland and Grissom vowed during the 2022 campaign season to reinstate it. Both said Monday’s decision was a promise kept to increase transparency.

“I was never given a sufficient amount of reason to dissolve it,” Cleveland said after the meeting. “The biggest reason why I wanted to reinstate the Budget Board was for input of other county officers, for the continuity for the other elected officers that were elected to participate in county government, not just their budget, but county government overall."

Grissom said he believed it was the right thing to do.

“That was the first thing I was going to do,” he said of his campaign promises to voters. “It was important to me to be open and transparent to the voters, the taxpayers, and I think bringing back the Budget Board does that and a lot more. It brings the courthouse back together as a team.”

Budget boards, among other laws, were designed to increase transparency by the state legislature via the Budget Board Act following the 1981 commissioner kickback scandal. More than 100 commissioners across the state were indicted or pleaded guilty to financial crimes.

While many counties still use only an Excise Board, large counties like Tulsa and Oklahoma Counties use Budget Boards, The Transcript reported in 2021. 

Stacy held fast to his statement in 2021 that the Excise Board is all the transparency the county needs and added Monday the panel has served the county well in the last two years.

“The annual budget process over the last two years has been the most open and transparent with the most community engagement since I became a commissioner,” he wrote in a prepared statement. “In the last two years each elected official has been personally responsible for creating, presenting and defending their budget to an independent board.

"Excise board members who have experienced both systems should continue to be involved in the process. Our charge is to be good stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars and ensure they have a say in the process.”

Elected officials ‘grateful’

Elected officials who opposed the board’s dissolution told the Transcript they were glad to see this day come.

County Treasurer Jim Reynolds said everyone likes to “talk transparency,” including the officials who dissolved the Budget Board, but the voters have the power to hold its members accountable.

“With a revived Budget Board, citizens will be provided openness seldom witnessed along government lines,” he said. “It’s your tax dollars. We, the senior most Budget Board members, will provide the transparency and expect you, the citizens to hold us accountable. God is good.”

County Clerk Tammy Belinson said she was glad to be part of the board again.

“I’m very happy for Cleveland County and for all eight elected officials to be back at the table deciding on how to be frugal with their taxpayers money,” she said.

County Assessor Doug Warr said the board is “the most efficient form of county government.”

“A Budget Board allows all eight elected officials to work together as one unified team, making decisions together that better serve the citizens of Cleveland County,” he said.

Court Clerk Marilyn Williams agreed.

“The budget boards leads to a more transparent discussion on the needs of this county and helps to insure fiscal responsibility of the elected officials,” she said.

Other business

the board voted to approve Cleveland as chairman of the commissioners board, and Grissom, sworn in Tuesday, as vice-chairman. The board also voted to appoint Cleveland to the County Health Department Board, a position Stacy held along with Haralson. 

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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