Correction: In previous versions of this story it was incorrectly stated that Kyle Lawson was appointed as mayor of Gene Autry by Gov. Mary Fallin. Lawson was elected by a vote of 10-6 during a special election held in Gene Autry on May 7, 2015.
In what has been a long road to recovery from ongoing issues from former government officials in Gene Autry, questions have arisen regarding the way the town has moved forward. Currently, the town’s council disagrees about what type of government it has since the council has been following town ordinances that don’t appear to exist — including paying the mayor a salary.
At Tuesday’s Gene Autry Town Council meeting the council voted to table action on reviewing the budget the town submitted to the state in June, which allegedly includes paying Mayor Kyle Lawson $400 a month. Council member Robert Gilio had the item added to the agenda after he noticed at the August meeting that Lawson was drawing a salary even though the board had never enacted an ordinance to pay him.
“There’s been no discussion on his salary,” Gilio said. “I am not implying Kyle Lawson is not worthy of compensation, but I will say I do not appreciate the manner which he went about receiving it. Not to mention that based on everything the Oklahoma Municipal League states, he is not eligible to receive it.”
Lawson states that his salary was included in the 2017-18 budget which was passed by all town council members. According to line item documents that were obtained from the town by The Ardmoreite, the budget reflects a $400 salary for Lawson. However, this itemized list of expenditures was not included in the budget sent to the state by the town clerk.
According to a copy of Gene Autry’s budget obtained from the Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector’s website by The Ardmoreite, the town budgeted $960 for administrative salary, $261.47 for taxes—payroll, and $10,781.30 for contract services. While the budget does include other items, these are the only ones listed that resemble any type of salary payment.However, the budget totals from the town’s itemized list and the state’s copy both arrive at the same total for the year.
Lawson previously said an ordinance passed under former Mayor Kathrine McQuistion entitles him to more than the $400 a month he’s been drawing —as much as $500 a week. However, the details are hazy as McQuistion is now in prison for embezzling money from the city, and no such ordinance can be found. Lawson added that he is also entitled to the salary because it was passed under the previous budget.
“When I was first elected I said I know we can’t afford to pay the mayor yet, so I said I would forego payment until (we could),” Lawson said. “We were asked where the ordinance is to pay my salary and we don’t have one.”
The mayor’s salary is just the beginning of the controversy though, as the town seems to be confused as to exactly what type of government they are, and have not been able to produce copies of any ordinances ever passed.
According to documents from OML, the town is a statutory form of government with a charter, which would mean that ultimately the charter would need to detail how the mayor would be paid, or need to be amended by ordinance. Lawson said that the town doesn’t have a copy of their charter. He added that when he began looking for such a charter he also searched in the records kept by Carter County and the Secretary of State, but didn’t find any record of a charter.
Gilio said the town has a statutory form of government, meaning that the board elects a mayor from its members, who then “certifies to the correct enrollment of all ordinances and resolutions passed by the board,” according to the Title 11 of Oklahoma’s statutes. Under this form of government an ordinance to pay the mayor, or any members of the council, would also need to be passed by the council. Gilio said his realization that the town is a statutory form of government stems from an email conversation he had with OML. According to emails given to The Ardmoreite by Gilio, Kelly Danner from OML told Gilio that there was a typo in the OML system that showed the town was a charter city, when in fact it is a statutory form of government.
Furthermore, according to Article 23, Section 10 of the Oklahoma Constitution, “in no case shall the salary of emoluments of any public official be changed after his election or appointment, or during his term of office, unless by operation of law enacted prior to such election or appointment.”
In the case of Lawson, he was elected to be mayor during a special election. After McQuistion was arrested, the town had no town council or mayor. But, under the constitution he still may not be eligible for a salary until the next election cycle.
In order to straighten things out, Lawson said he’s working with the State Attorney General’s office on how to proceed.
“We have no records of any ordinances,” Lawson said. “That’s why we are working with the State Attorney General. We don’t know how to proceed without anything, and I honestly don’t know what comes next.”
Lawson said he will not draw another paycheck from the city until the Attorney General lets the town know how to proceed. Without any ordinances, the current town council may have to begin enacting ordinances for things they thought were law all along.
“We’re in limbo waiting for the AG’s decision,” Lawson said. “If compensation is going to be an issue long-term, I don’t see myself staying on as mayor. I really love working for the town, but the amount of time I’ve spent working has started to damage my personal finances because I have to take time away from work.”