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West Valley City • The quasigovernment agency recovering from a decadelong $1 million embezzlement will undergo a series of changes aimed at preventing a repeat of the financial debacle.
The Utah Communications Authority (UCA) board, which oversees 911 and emergency radio operations in the state, voted Tuesday to tighten restrictions on credit-card use and hire an in-house professional financial controller and a financial analyst to keep a closer eye on the agency's $14 million budget.
''We need finance people on board to regain control of the books,'' said board member Dean Cox during the panel's first meeting since the April 8 public disclosure of the embezzlement.
"Our institutional knowledge is gone," said Scott Finlayson, referring to the departures of former longtime executive director Steven Proctor and accountant Kathy Trees. The two both resigned in the wake of the embezzlement discovered in January and blamed on Patricia Nelson and her daughter, Crystal Evans.
Nelson, Proctor's administrative assistant, confessed in a civil lawsuit to some $1 million in unauthorized credit card charges dating back to 2005. She and her daughter also agreed to a civil judgment of $2.3 million, including interest and punitive damages.
Proctor and Trees have not been implicated in wrongdoing.
A criminal investigation is underway, according to the UCA.
The board on Tuesday agreed to put a budget in place but left room for it to be amended by a new director, to be named at a later date. The holes in the organization's management have left the agency without a strategic plan. By law the agency must submit its plan by Oct. 31. Without a director in place to help develop a plan, the board plans to ask lawmakers for an extension.
The agency has begun working with state human resources to find a replacement for Proctor, who headed the agency for 17 years.
UCA's board, still reeling from the scandal and its aftermath, went into a closed-door meeting to discuss personnel issues and pending litigation. When the meeting reopened to the public about 45 minutes later, the board without much discussion voted to allow the attorneys working on the civil case to retain a forensic auditor.
The board vote was unanimous in favor of changing the agency's credit card system in a way that would allow more control. The agency will switch to ''purchasing cards'' that will have restrictions on the types of companies from which purchases can be made.
The civil suit filed against Nelson and Evans said their embezzlement was uncovered when a credit-card statement showing transactions at such places as PetSmart, Toys R Us and Michaels craft store was discovered left on a printer. Later investigation uncovered charges at state liquor stores, clothing and department stores and one transaction for a $6,000 family trip to the Bahamas.
Legislation passed this year requires UCA to follow the state procurement code, which sets administrative rules for purchases, including competitive bid requirements. That new law also gives the governor power to appoint the board chairman, whom until now has been elected by other board members.
Additionally, lawmakers have authorized an expanded performance audit of the agency.
Current Chairwoman Tina Mathieu characterized the reforms approved by the board Tuesday as ''aggressive,'' and said the agency is making an effort to turn things around.
Mathieu later noted that UCA's financial information has been submitted to the state division of finance so it can be published on the state transparency website.
UCA submitted the information four days after Mathieu was notified by the state auditor that the agency was required to report its finances, she said.
She and agency attorney Quin Stephens disputed that UCA is included in the state law mandating such disclosure, saying the agency is exempt from the statute.
Nevertheless, Mathieu added, "We don't think we should be exempted. … We want to be transparent.''
The board approved minutes for its last three meetings, dating back to March 29, but still has not posted online minutes after its Oct. 13 meeting.