PICHER, Okla. (AP) A newspaper investigation shows that administrative costs for the Picher Housing Authority have risen almost 30 percent even as rentals in the town that sits on a federal Superfund site have decreased.
The Tulsa World obtained documents through a public records request and reported that the authority's top official, executive director John Sparkman, didn't fully comply with that request.
The Picher Housing Authority offers public housing for low-income families in Picher, a fading lead and zinc mining town in far northeastern Oklahoma. The federal government is in the midst of a $60 million buyout of homes in an effort to relocate residents outside the Superfund area.
Records show that the office expenses and administrative costs for the authority have risen by $27,869 since the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2007. Since 2006, 24 of the authority's 78 rental units have been closed and seven units are now vacant. The authority's rentals have dropped 40 percent in two years.
Sparkman has been criticized in recent weeks after a report by the World indicated that the authority has been renting out units even as the buyout was underway to relocate people.
The World reported that it could not reach Sparkman for comment, but that an attorney for the authority, Tony Laizure, said that Sparkman had not done anything wrong.
Sparkman is paid $34,153 annually and oversees 54 housing units, in which records indicate 85 people now live. He has said he is working on a plan to close those units because of the federal buyout.
At the newspaper's request, he released information that he hired two assistants in 2008, who are paid $15 an hour for working between 10 and 25 hours a week. The newspaper also had requested records that included the names of Sparkman's assistants. It also requested two annual audit reports but received only one.
Records obtained by the newspaper indicated the authority was sued in 2007. The state suit claimed Sparkman had withheld records that detailed his work as a consultant for two law firms that now represent families who have sued mining companies that formerly operated in the area.
A Delaware County judge ruled in July 2007 that Sparkman and the authority had violated the state's Open Records Act in that case.
Sparkman was paid about $30,000 between 2004 and 2006 to serve as a consultant for the law firms. He escorted officials around the area, had documents signed and passed along information to the firms, court records and other documents indicate.