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Rolly: The latest audits of quasi-government agencies fit a growing trend

Published January 21, 2017 2:41 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

What do the Utah Transit Authority, the Economic Development Corp. of Utah, the Utah Science Technology and Research Initiative, the Utah Communications Authority, the Utah College of Applied Technology, the Utah Dairy Commission, the Utah Local Governments Trust, the Unified Fire Authority and the Utah League of Cities and Towns have in common?

They are all quasi-government institutions overseen by independent boards while receiving public money, and they all have been scandalized by scathing audits from either the state auditor or the legislative auditor.

Their sins have included embezzlement, misuse of public funds, inflated expense reports, nepotism and failure to pay taxes.

These agencies usually are formed as single-purpose entities to more efficiently provide services for multiple governments with similar goals. They usually have elected officials from different jurisdictions serving on their boards.

State Auditor John Dougall told me these boards frequently lack transparency and have insufficient oversight, which leads to employee temptations.

"A lot of times, the people on these boards don't even know they are governmental entities," Dougall said.

Off with their heads • During last week's state school board meeting, Angela Stallings, the associate schools superintendent, was giving an update on legislative issues when she warned that some legislators felt disrespected.

When addressing the board, she said, the legislators didn't like having to sit at the witness table — like the unwashed masses.

Being legislators (royalty), they felt they should be placed at the head of the room with the school board chairman.

Stallings suggested the legislators would be more likely to visit with the board if they were not treated like common folk.

See no evil • Last year, I wrote about the censors at the Deseret News who make sure their readers don't see inappropriate materials — in the comic strips.

In May, the Deseret News had a Mother Goose & Grimm strip in which Mother Goose bought a cheap electric car that turned out to be a bumper car. All the other subscribers had a different strip, which was designated by the syndicate for that day. That cartoon featured a corporate boardroom in which a man presented a graphic resembling a Fruity Pebbles cereal box. The box instead read "LGBT Pebbles."

Well, the censors are at it again.

On Sunday, the syndicated comic strip Big Nate ran in The Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News. The Tribune version, like that of the other subscribers, featured the grandfather, tired of shopping with his wife, stopping to rest in front of the Victoria's Secret window display. The Deseret News' version, which was supposed to be slated for a different day, had a much more ambitious grandfather shoveling snow.

Interesting reference • The Deseret News had a story Thursday about a devotional at the Institute of Religion where Dallin Oaks of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Quorum of the Twelve Apostles counseled the audience to accept the election results as part of the Democratic process as President-elect Donald Trump prepared for his inauguration Friday.

Another Quorum member, Jeffrey Holland, spoke of his admiration of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor who joined the underground resistance against Adolf Hitler and the Nazis and was ultimately executed.

It's black and white • Some controversy flared up this week when Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas, which still celebrate the third Monday in January as Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Robert E. Lee's Birthday, put information on Google about what businesses would be closed on "Robert E. Lee's birthday."

After a firestorm of complaints, Google changed the information to include Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

That reminded me of a column item I wrote in 2012. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert sent an edict to all the state liquor stores compelling them to notify customers that they would be "closed for Washington and Lincoln Day," not Presidents Day.

Herbert explained the reasoning for his last-minute edict was that he did not want to give the impression the state was honoring President Barack Obama. It's relevant that he gave that explanation on his campaign Facebook page when he was running for re-election that year and didn't want any red-blooded Utah Republican to think he liked Obama.

He pointed out the Utah Legislature officially changed the holiday's name to Washington and Lincoln Day in 2000, coincidentally the same year the Utah Legislature changed its Human Rights Day to Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

After all, the lawmakers couldn't just honor the black leader without the quid pro quo of edifying two specific white icons as well, could they?

Clarification •The Utah Science Technology and Research initiative is not quasi-governmental agency but rather an agency created by the Legislature that must adhere to the same regulations and oversight of any such group.

USTAR was the subject of a critical legislative audit in 2013. State Auditor John Dougall said while it is different than a quasi-governmental institution, it ran into problems because it lacked visibility. Also, because it was a pet project of the Legislature, there wasn't the oversight it should have had.

USTAR did not have the problems of the other agencies mentioned such as embezzlement and inflated expense reports. But it was criticized for inflating its success in using research dollars to create startup businesses. It also was dinged for failing to follow Utah's open-meetings law.







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