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Newly released audio recordings suggests that the Utah Communications Authority (UCA), which oversees 911 and radio operations in the state, violated the state open-meetings law the day that longtime executive director Steven Proctor resigned from the agency in the wake of a decadelong $1 million embezzlement.
The April 7 meeting of the UCA board was held mostly behind closed doors as the members voted to privately discuss personnel issues. The board later emerged into an open meeting and voted, without discussion, to "proceed with the decisions that were made in the closed meeting." Board members, many of them law enforcement officials, voted unanimously for the obscure motion.
The meeting ended with no elaboration of the issue, and the next day, UCA issued a news release and a letter to stakeholder agencies announcing the embezzlement and the resignation of Proctor, who headed the agency for 17 years. He was not implicated in wrongdoing.
UCA and its attorneys have placed the blame on Proctor's assistant, Patricia Nelson, and her daughter Crystal Evans. The two confessed in a civil judgment to using agency credit cards to make illicit purchases of some $1 million over a decade.
The minutes of the April 7 meeting were approved in the most recent UCA board session, on April 26. They were posted online April 27 and the audio followed on April 29, both appearing after The Salt Lake Tribune filed separate open-record requests.
Utah's Public and Open Meetings Act holds that it is illegal to take an action behind closed doors said Jeff Hunt, an attorney who is an expert in open-records and open-meetings law.
The motion approved in the open portion of UCA's meeting was "not any kind of meaningful way for the public to know what action was taken," Hunt said. He pointed to the legislative intent in the law, which states that public bodies should "take their actions openly, and conduct their deliberations openly."
"To just say, 'We're going to ratify the action taken in closed session,' is not in the spirit or the letter of the law," Hunt said, although he acknowledged the law allows agencies to discuss personnel issues in private.
Asked about the legitimacy of the April 7 vote, Board Chairwoman Tina Mathieu on Monday told The Tribune, "You know full well that every vote must take place in an open meeting." She declined to answer what "decisions" were made in the closed-door meeting, but said she would look into the Tribune's query.
Nelson and Evans were able to steal agency money over a decade, according to UCA's civil action against the two, and the embezzlement was discovered in January only after a credit card statement with questionable purchases was found accidentally left in a printer. Nelson was fired Feb. 22.
A criminal investigation is underway, according to UCA.
The scandal has led to questions about UCA's lack of transparency.
Last month, lawmakers expanded a legislative audit into the agency and State Auditor John Dougall warned the agency to comply with state transparency reporting laws or lose public funding. Mathieu said she complied with the order, even though she contends UCA is exempt from the statute.
Also, a considerable gap remains in the publicly posted minutes from the agency's board meetings. Nothing between Oct. 13. 2015, and March 29 has been posted on the agency website.