Petition drive moves to round two

The former hospital in Pauls Valley is again the focus of a petition drive seeking to collect enough signatures to call for an audit of the facility's operation before and after it closed two years ago. (PV Democrat photo)

Round two is now underway for a petition drive calling for state auditors to look closer at Pauls Valley’s former hospital in the time before and after its closure a couple of years ago.

At the center of the petition is what supporters say is getting former hospital employees all their back pay and benefits in full.

Again joined by some volunteers the leading voice of the effort is Skip Mitchell, who says there are still many questions about how the hospital was operated in its final years and what led to its closure in October 2018.

A similar petition drive this past summer fell just a handful of signatures short of passage, which would have triggered an investigative audit of the city’s books.

A second push to collect enough signatures of voters with a residence registered inside of Pauls Valley’s city limits officially got started last week and is scheduled to go through most of October.

“It’s a little different than last time, but still the primary focus is the same,” Mitchell tells the PV Democrat.

“We want to get to the bottom of the hospital situation, including the payroll of the hospital employees.

“The city has been assuring us that the employees got paid and this is not true. They need to pay these former employees. Yes there were paychecks, but what I’m saying is they haven’t been paid in full. Nobody has been paid in full.”

Mitchell said it’s not only back pay for the 131 employees at the time of the hospital’s closure but also benefits like insurance, vacation and other paid time off.

In fact, Mitchell says this one thing is what’s been driving him from the start to push for an audit.

“If the city steps up and pays those employees what they’re owed then I’ll stop this drive today,” he said.

“My number one priority has always been to get them paid. If they paid them I’d go away.”

This new petition lists eight specific things supporters would like to see checked in an audit, although state officials would have the authority to look closer at any records or issues as part of an investigation.

The target number for signatures needed for passage is 304 as the deadline is 5 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 27. The areas listed in the petition include:

1. Determine if financing arrangements, including a $500,000 loan made to Southern Plains, have been properly managed.

2. Determine if sales tax revenue has been used according to its designated purposes.

3. Evaluate the recall petition process and related communications and results.

4. Review contracts, lease agreements and bid processes of the hospital facility and the ambulance service.

5. Determine if the city has failed to pay wages and related benefits to former hospital employees.

6. Review the city’s management/relationship with nursing home facilities across the state of Oklahoma.

7. Review possible violations of the Open Meeting Act and Open Records Act.

8. Review payments to selected personnel.

The petition is asking auditors to review the time period between 2015 and 2020.

Mitchell says volunteers will be working in Pauls Valley over the coming days to collect signatures, while the petition will be available at the Pauls Valley Urgent Care facility on West Grant on the days when the facility is open.

“We will work the neighborhoods more and try and learn from where he fell short in the last drive,” he said, adding there is a Spanish version of the petition.

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