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The state auditor admonished the Utah Dairy Commission on Wednesday for lax credit card use and questionable taxpayer purchases, including a manicure for the dairy commission's CEO.
Going beyond the purchasing rules, Utah State Auditor John Dougall exposed his office's combative relationship with the dairy commission, which he said failed to recognize it is a publicly funded entity.
He didn't face that same pushback from three other independent entities whose audits showed they also needed to tighten up their credit card policies.
"I expect the Utah Dairy Commission to promptly recognize those duties and to stop operating in the shadows, away from public scrutiny," he said.
In reaction, the commission's CEO, Jenn Harrison, and its chairman, Jeff Hardy, wrote a letter saying they had created a more stringent credit card policy. They also said they were frustrated with the auditor's "errors" and the "excessive amount of personnel time" it took to correct them.
"During the course of the state audit, UDC perceived a general misunderstanding that the state auditor's office has in relation to who and what UDC is," they wrote. "We encourage the Utah State Auditor's office to better understand what UDC's goals and missions are, engage in more dialogue to obtain answers for questions which may arise, which in turn, would enable its staff to better implement their job when conducting audits."
That testy letter spurred Dougall to take the rare step of including "concluding remarks," complaining the dairy commission wouldn't respond to requests, requiring the use of subpoenas to get basic financial information.
"Finally, when we see questionable purchases (such as public funds being spent on the CEO's manicure) we begin to question the adequacy of the oversight of the organization," he wrote.
The dairy commission is an independent agency that has been around for decades, created by the state Legislature and funded by a milk assessment to promote the dairy industry.
The review, which took place from June 1, 2015 to May 31, 2016, identified 11 credit card payments for an employee's cell phone and internet service adding up to $2,311 that should have been reimbursements limited to just $58 per month. Also, the commission spent $588 to send four board members to a Utah State University football game, $193 on airline charges and upgrades, and $180 on Harrison's manicure.
The commission gave the auditor a receipt saying Harrison paid it back, although the report notes "we were unable to trace the $180 to the commission's bank as the money was reportedly returned to the commission's petty cash fund."
Dougall said this was one of the most contentious audits he has undertaken since taking office in 2013.
"Their attempt to try to impair, limit and block our audit causes me concern," he said, suggesting the Legislature should consider increasing its oversight of the commission.