Oklahoma County Commissioner Brian Maughan made a motion to suspend embattled Sheriff John Whetsel at the commission’s regular meeting this morning, but the absence of Commissioner Ray Vaughan resulted in Commissioner Willa Johnson and Vaughan’s chief deputy punting at least one week.
“My boss would like for himself to be here, and he would also like the sheriff to address this board,” said Rick Buchanan.
Whetsel has been under fire — while campaigning for a sixth term — since an audit was released last month cataloging potential financial mismanagement of the Oklahoma County Jail and the sheriff’s office.
“This is not anything that we relish. This is a sad day for Oklahoma County,” Maughan said before making his motion. “I think it is proper that we probably request that the DA assist us in the request for suspension, and I would make that a motion.”
Despite a lengthy explanation of options before the board by Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater, Maughan’s motion languished without a second and, thus, failed.
That prompted anger from several citizens, including Brian Anderson, who asked the board to confirm that the meeting agenda had been properly posted to alert Vaughan and Whetsel of the item concerning the sheriff’s future.
“Then why were those gentlemen not here? Whetsel and your boss?” Anderson asked.
Buchanan replied: “With respect, my boss had knee replacement surgery (last Wednesday).”
“Then he should have given you the ability to make the decision,” Anderson said.
DA Prater: ‘I thought they would vote for it’
Hunter Thompson could have won this sheriff race by William W. Savage III
After the meeting, Prater said he is “a little surprised” by the commissioners’ lack of action.
“I thought they would vote for it,” Prater said. “I think there’s a real desire to move forward, and maybe out of an abundance of caution, they did want Commissioner Vaughn to be here so everyone could see his face and watch his lips move as he says things.
“But, frankly, he could have authorized his chief deputy to make the same decision.”
Wednesday’s delay of action from the board means Whetsel will remain in office through election day on Tuesday where voters will choose between him and Rep. Mike Christian (R-OKC), a former state trooper.
Christian has hammered on Whetsel as either incompetent or duplicitous throughout the campaign.
Prater, meanwhile, said it would take several weeks to convene a grand jury to act on removing Whetsel from office, and the state will not have a multicounty grand jury convened until January.
Asked whether Whetsel’s conduct and actions described in State Auditor Gary Jones’s investigative audit meet the threshold of criminality, Prater said “potentially” and emphasized the need “to see what supporting documents we have.”
Commissioner Maughan: ‘The abundance of caution’
Following the meeting, Maughan said he was “disappointed” that he received no support for his motion to suspend the embattled sheriff.
“I think the seriousness of the issue merited taking the abundance of caution by moving forward today,” Maughan said. “It’s unfortunate that the timing occurred the way it did, both before the election and while Commissioner Vaughan is rehabbing surgery.”
During the meeting, he noted that he and the board had been cautious not to politicize the issue in an election year, but he said he has received more calls about Whetsel recently than possibly on any other issue ever.
“I was really happy to see the public take the time to attend the meeting and express their concerns,” he said. “I wish we saw more of that on more issues.”
The item on Wednesday’s meeting agenda noted that Whetsel could face possible sanction, suspension or removal from office. In the end, he received none of the above.