Few organizations have been as embattled as the Ardmore Development Authority in recent months as one issue after another has kept it in the headlines. Citizens who have concerns regarding the practices of the authority will have the opportunity to voice those issues with Gary Jones, Oklahoma State Auditor, and representatives from his office Thursday.

A town hall meeting has been scheduled at 2 p.m., in the Santa Fe Station Depot. The meeting was requested by the ADA in an effort to allow citizens to have a voice regarding a possible state audit. Prior to the town hall meeting, Jones and his staff members will meet with members of the ADA and city commission.

"It became very clear through multiple discussions that we cannot navigate the next era of progress without a pause to listen to concerns various individuals have raised," Brian Carter, Interim President & CEO, ADA, said. "Public confidence in the ADA is crucial in order to accomplish our mission. We will read carefully the state auditor's report and then consider prudent next steps."

Carter requested the visit from the auditor's office Tuesday, one day after the ADA Board of Trustees voted to pursue the services of Watkins and Associates for an audit that is limited in scope. During the meeting, J.D. Spohn, Ardmore City Manager, addressed the trustees and relayed concerns given to him in a meeting with four citizens regarding the need for a state audit.

Carter said he and Mita Bates were informed of Spohn's meeting April 12 and was told the citizens would actively resist a sales tax renewal until an audit was conducted. A sales tax renewal to fund the ADA was one of two GAPS proposals defeated during the Nov. 6 general election. The other proposal was a property tax that would have benefited the University Center of Southern Oklahoma as well as a new facility for the YMCA or another health and fitness entity.

Carter said within 30 minutes of being informed of the concerns, the ADA contacted the state auditor's office to garner information about how a state audit is requested and the steps in the process. The office informed the ADA the first step would include an opportunity to speak to both city leadership and board members and also a meeting to hear concerns from the citizens. The option of meeting with the state auditor's office and engaging Watkins and Associates to perform the succession audit in view of the leadership changeover was discussed. The board voted unanimously for the succession audit.

"Citizens who cannot attend in person can submit their concerns in writing via other citizens or can send them directly to the state auditor's office," Carter said.

The town hall meeting is unique in that it rarely happens under Jones' leadership.

"This will be the second one, although there have been some informal ones," Jones said. "That happens quite often. The first town hall meeting was in Cordell."

Jones said the informal meetings have helped communities resolve the differences without resorting to the audit.

"We made some suggestions, that they try some things before the clock began running on their audit," Jones said. "We want to do what is in their best interests. If we can help resolve without costing the citizens the anguish, cost or time of an audit, that's good.

"What we generally do, we narrow it down to the issues at hand. Some issues, they might want looked at."

Following the meetings with ADA and city officials as well as the citizens, the state auditor's office will develop a summary. Upon reception of the summary, it would be up to either the ADA or city to determine if a state audit is warranted.

"The summary report of concerns will serve as the basis of a decision about whether to spend the time or money on an audit," Carter said. "The ultimate goal is to stop talking about the past and be able to focus on the future. Because there are serious concerns about the past, we need to pause to listen and take action as is prudent."

Michael Pineda