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In the aftermath of the House investigation into the dealings of then-Attorney General John Swallow, Rep. Mike McKell, a member of the panel that probed the alleged misconduct, wondered if much of the turmoil could have been avoided if people inside the office had someplace to turn with whistle-blower complaints.
McKell's proposed solution one that has been implemented in numerous states and at the federal level is to create an independent Office of Inspector General, which could have the resources and authority to investigate allegations of misconduct at the state, county and local level.
In his State of the State address Wednesday to the Legislature, Gov. Gary Herbert threw his support behind the idea. He called for the creation of an office "that will act as an independent entity to elevate and ensure the highest levels of ethics and official conduct in state government."
Details of the plan are still being hammered out as McKell works with Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, and Attorney General Sean Reyes, looking at models in other states to flesh out the proposal.
"In light of the Swallow investigation, it's clear to me the state can do more and have more transparency," said McKell, R-Spanish Fork. "I've asked the question several times: What do we do when we have a situation like John Swallow or [former Attorney General] Mark Shurtleff? Who do you go to? And the answer has not been clear."
The inspector general would be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate, McKell said, but the term would be staggered so whoever holds the office would not be directly beholden to the governor.
If the investigation finds evidence of corruption, the office could turn it over to local prosecutors or the attorney general to file charges, if necessary.
"[People] told us if you really want to make a difference, a piecemeal approach isn't going to work as well as having an office of inspector general, that is someone you can actually go to with whistle-blower complaints," Henderson said. "Right now, we don't know who to go to with problems we see going on."
It's not the first time such an idea has been proposed. After the new House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, had his own brush with the legislative ethics process in 2008, he proposed the creation of an inspector general who could investigate to determine if complaints against officials have merit.
But, with the economy crashing and budgets tight, there was not enough money or political will to create such a position. Hughes still believes it would be a good idea.
"I thought the I.G. model had worked in other states and cities," Hughes said, "and thought it would be a good one."
Hughes said it's possible for "people with ulterior motives" to exploit public skepticism about government and elected officials to cast doubt on officeholders and the ethics safeguards in place.
"You want to have a fresh and credible third set of eyes in the vetting process," he said. "It's a great concept."
Reyes said his office has a public-corruption unit that primarily looks at issues at the county and local level. Having an inspector general handle those might make sense, he said, and it could free up the investigators in his office to delve into white-collar crime and other misconduct.
The state already has an inspector general who focuses on finding waste, fraud and abuse in the Medicaid program. The state auditor's office also has a hotline where people with complaints can call and tips are looked into by members of his investigative team.
McKell said officials are trying to work through the issues quickly so they can finish work on the bill and move it through the Legislature. He hopes to have a draft of a bill creating the office available within two weeks.