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Board under investigation fires director of Commissioner's Association

Former Executive Director Gayle Ward, courtesy the ACCO website

The Association of County Commissioners of Oklahoma gave its executive director the boot a week after the Oklahoma County District Attorney called on OSBI and the State Auditor to investigate claims made against her and others who manage state funds. The ACCO board voted to fire director Gayle Ward Tuesday amid accusations of wasting taxpayer dollars, showing favor to a law firm whose employees she's close with and even workplace sexual harassment and bullying.

The latest information comes mostly through FOX 25 Open Records Requests as well as documents provided by those who work closely with ACCO. The group, which is funded almost entirely by taxpayer money, confimed Ward's termination and released a statement saying it would leave the job to law enforcement to determine if any criminal activity has occurred.

Wednesday the OSBI began its investigation after the DA received a 24-page letter from ACCO general counsel Clay Bruner to board members which outlined what he called gross mismanagement of taxpayer funds.

"I'm extremely proud of that young man," said Bruner's attorney Jerry Pignato, "he exhibited he was extremely brave to do what he did."

Pignato calls Bruner a whistle-blower. His letter mostly discusses ACCO SIG, the group that deals with insurance claims for all public employees and property for 74 Oklahoma counties. And according to Bruner's letter, millions of taxpayerer dollars are wasted in unnecessary court cases and because ACCO SIG only uses one law firm, paying high travel costs whenever staff are needed in lawsuits out of the Metro. Bruner claims the particular law firm's members are unprofessionally close with former director Ward, and even rents the law firm space to office out of the ACCO building. According to Bruner, ACCO paid the firm more than $18 million in litigation fees in the past ten years.

"An inordinate and lopsided amount of money is being paid to one firm when monies could be better spent in hiring firms across the state," Pignato said.

But Ward's attorney fired back Tuesday, in a statement calling Bruner's allegations vague and untrue.

"The structure and policies of ACCO/sig/sif have been determined by the board of directors, and have been in place since long before Ms. Ward became the executive director. Ms. Ward is deeply disappointed that the board has made a decision to terminate herwithout ever having spoken to her about Mr. Bruner's allegations," said attorney Laura McConnell-Corbyn, in a statement released to FOX 25.

Corbyn goes on to attack Bruner's reputation at work, saying:

"Ms. Ward discovered that Mr. Bruner began sending large quantities of internal ACCO documents to his private unsecured email accountin direct violation of ACCO's code of conduct."

She says Ward met with Bruner in January to put him on notice that he was not performing his duties as expected for his position.

Bruner's attorney says it's just push back.

"The atmosphere was one of, among a couple individuals anyway, was one of contempt for him that he dared bring those issues to light," Pignato said.

Right now, the statewide investigation is ongoing. ACCO also hired a third party attorney to investigate. And the ACCO SIG/SIF board is deciding whether to bring in an independent auditor as well.

For the time being, Bruner is not allowed to return to work. Last week the board voted both he and Ward stay at home until further notice.

In the board's statement after Ward's termination, Chairman Roy Alford wrote "the Board would not retaliate against any employee for bringing allegations of improprieties. Instead, in the course of looking into those allegations, additional information arose which caused the Board to decide to take the action it has with respect to Mr. Bruner."

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