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Southern Oklahoma town upset by senator's choice of tag agent


COLBERT, Okla. (AP) _ Residents in this southern Oklahoma town are upset after a new state senator told the town's tag agent that she would be replaced by one of his campaign volunteers.

Residents are hoping to save the job of Connie Winnett, who has been Colbert's tag agent three years and was told by new Sen. Jay Paul Gumm that a replacement tag agent would start work Friday.

The news came as a surprise to Winnett.

``We thought everything was going to be fine,'' she said. ``We've been in a daze all week.''

Winnett was told her successor is Rhonda Short, who worked as a volunteer on Gumm's campaign.

News of the change prompted residents to circulate a petition that seeks to have Winnett remain as the tag agent in the town of about 1,040.

Many are unhappy about the change, a local business owner said.

``What got me into this, is an elected official who has the power to put people out of work,'' said Rickie Reese, an auctioneer who has helped circulate the petition.

He said he expects the petition will have eight pages of signed names, although he's unsure how many people have signed it so far.

Gumm, D-Durant, defended his decision to appoint Short.

``I know she's going to have a first-rate tag agency. This is nothing unusual,'' Gumm said. ``That's part of being a tag agent.''

In rural areas, state senators can recommend people to the Oklahoma Tax Commission to serve as tag agents. The Tax Commission makes appointments based on those recommendations.

``It's the same process in which the current agent was appointed,'' Gumm said. ``You have to trust the person in that position, and I trust Rhonda Short.''

Winnett has been offered a job working for Short, Gumm said.

Officials at the Tax Commission were unavailable for comment Monday because the agency was closed for President's Day.

Gumm was elected to fill the senate seat vacated by Billy Mickle, who did not run for re-election last fall.

Gumm said Short is a friend and knocked on doors and helped out in his campaign. He said Short didn't contribute money to his campaign.
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