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Board adopts policy reforms in wake of blistering Unified Fire Authority audit

Published March 21, 2017 10:35 pm

Reforms • Supervising board adopts tighter rules on everything from gifts to writing and processing checks.
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Midvale • After a scathing pair of audits turned up alleged misuse of public money and possible criminal wrongdoing by former officials of the Unified Fire Authority, local leaders responsible for overseeing the agency have adopted a series of reforms to strengthen supervision and resolve weak spots in policy, from signing checks to anti-nepotism rules to competitive bidding.

"It's about clearing up some things that came up in the audit," said Sheldon Stewart, a Riverton city councilman, during a Tuesday meeting of the Unified Fire Service Area board — which speaks for 10 of the 14 cities and townships with Unified Fire Authority contracts.

The board unanimously approved three resolutions targeting recommended actions outlined by the state auditor in January. The first measure ratified the process to hire new legal counsel and an administrative manager to ensure compliance in the wake of the audit.

"It's very much something we're attacking," said board Chairwoman Coralee Wessman-Moser, a Herriman city councilwoman, about making progress with the appointments.

The group also voted in favor of a resolution to require two signatures from select board leaders on checks written by the agency. That initiative is in response to criticisms in the report suggesting members of the Unified Fire Authority board — a second group made up of many of the same members as the service area group — failed to exercise proper oversight because they blindly trusted former Chief Michael Jensen.

Board members also approved new, tighter policies on nepotism, gifts and records management, as well as recovering costs and processing payments. The board plans to seek reimbursement of unauthorized expenditures by the agency's former leaders.

"A significant number of our policies have now been updated," Wessman-Moser said, "so that resolves a lot of that."

Among the allegations raised in the audit are that Jensen, a current Salt Lake County Councilman, potentially abused $370,000 in public funds to provide incentives for himself and other agency leaders, as well as to pay for trips that involved minimal fire department work.

Jensen has denied any violations, saying there are "reasonable explanations for all of the things in the audit." He declined to comment to The Salt Lake Tribune on Tuesday, noting "I stand by everything I've said in the past." He has previously discounted the reports as being riddled with "numerous inaccuracies, mischaracterizations and distortions harmful to my character and damaging to me."

The allegations against Jensen and former Chief Deputy Gaylord Scott have been referred to the state attorney general for criminal investigation after Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill recused his office because of potential for conflict of interest. (The County Council oversees the D.A.'s budget).

Daniel Burton, spokesman for Attorney General Sean Reyes, confirmed Tuesday the cases have been referred but would neither confirm nor deny that an investigation is underway.

Jensen resigned from the Unified Fire Authority in August after 12 years with the agency as its first chief. He was replaced in January by Dan Petersen from Medford, Ore. Jensen continues to serve on the County Council, where he is in his fifth term.

The fire agency's former legal counsel Karl Hendrickson, former chief financial officer Shirley Perkins and Scott, the former chief deputy, have also similarly resigned or departed in connection with alleged problems pointed out in the reports, particularly receiving big bonuses.

Auditors also determined that top managers with Unified Fire Authority, including Jensen and Scott, may have taken trips on the public dime —┬áracking up hotel rooms, car mileage and meals beyond daily allowances — and hired relatives to work for the agency. For Jensen, that includes two sons, two brothers-in-law and a cousin. Scott had three nephews under his command.

Scott allegedly spent $23,000 and Jensen $1,600 on technology equipment (such as iPads and Apple watches). The devices were cleared, according to the report, when returned to the department, though a forensics team recovered most of the data, including "thousands of pornographic images" on Scott's computer.


Twitter: @CourtneyLTanner






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