Muskogee County commissioners will meet Thursday morning during a special meeting to determine how Court Clerk Paula Sexton's interim successor will be selected. 

Sexton announced in May her plans to retire before completing her fifth term, one to which she was elected in 2020 and she began Jan. 4. Sexton has served as district court clerk since 2002, when she won a special election, and will retire July 31. 

Commissioners found themselves in a similar position in 2020, when former Sheriff Rob Frazier resigned to accept a job as police chief at Fort Gibson. The board accepted applications from qualified applicants and selected a finalist from that pool, taking precautions to avoid making an appointment that would provide an unfair advantage to a candidate in the election that would follow.

District 3 Commissioner Kenny Payne said that was easier to accomplish that year because former Undersheriff Terry Freeman had no intention to campaign for the office. Freeman had served under two sheriff's administrations, Payne said, and was well versed with its management and operations.  

"I've had a few people calling me," Payne said. "But I have more people calling me who are vying for other people who want that job than I have from those who actually want the job." 

Payne said he envisions an appointment process similar to what was used when Frazier resigned. The appointee, he said, would serve as interim district court clerk until a special election in 2022. 

District 1 Commissioner Ken Doke said Wednesday he didn't "know exactly what the plan is going to be." But he agreed with Payne about the concept, saying the procedure probably would be "similar to what we did" when Frazier resigned. 

"There isn't any doubt about the political nature of this deal, but we want to do what's right," Doke said, responding to inquiries about calls from prospective candidates or advantages of an appointment. "We'll just have to look at the applicants and make the best decision we can given the circumstances."

While the impending appointment may be routine for Payne and Doke, District 2 Commissioner Keith Hyslop said this is new to him. He was elected after Sheriff Andy Simmons won the Republican nomination and the contest after the Democratic nominee withdrew from the race. 

"When I was elected to office I selected a chief deputy, thinking if something happened to me, that would be the person who fills my shoes," Hyslop said. "Isn't that how that's supposed to work?"

When former County Clerk Karen Anderson retired, she hand-picked her successor — and commissioners finalized her choice with an interim appointment. Anderson said she based her decision to retire — and her recommendation to appoint her second deputy clerk and former County Clerk Dianna Cope — on a change in state law that reduced retirement benefits for county officers who were not appointed or elected before that law took effect.  

A provision in state law provides that court clerks or county clerks "may ... appoint one or more deputies" and delegate certain authorities to those deputies. There are some who believe that authority includes filling a vacancy until it is filled by appointment or an election.  

Sexton said that is the logical way to proceed. 

"It would be a waste of county funds to appoint somebody who does not have experience in the office," Sexton said, citing rumors about an immediate appointment of somebody outside the office. "The commissioners need to appoint somebody who already knows how to manage this office and then let those who want to fill the position campaign for office and let the people elect the person they want." 

Muskogee County Treasurer Robyn Boswell, who was rumored to be jockeying for Sexton's post, confirmed she is "considering it, but I have not made a decision."

"I'm going to attend the meeting in the morning and kind of listen to what's going on," Boswell said Wednesday afternoon. "I'll make the decision after that — I'll make a decision pretty fast."

District Attorney Orvil Loge said he intends to recommend the same  appointment process used to select Frazier's successor. He anticipated commissioners would appoint Sexton's replacement Aug. 2 during their regular meeting and set a date for a special election, which would coincide with the regular election cycle for 2022. 

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