This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Two reports out of the Utah State Auditor's office this week show just how easy it is to pull a fast one on Utah taxpayers. The secret is to have a bunch of elected officials watching over you.
On Wednesday, the auditor's office produced a blistering list of offenses coming out of previous management of the Unified Fire District, which provides fire protection to more than half the people in Salt Lake County and in Eagle Mountain. Former Unified Chief Michael Jensen may have misused as much as $370,000 in public money, including taxpayer-paid junkets and incentives for his top lieutenants, according to auditors. He was also apparently hiring relatives in violation of nepotism rules. His chief deputy was also singled out in the audit as breaking rules for his personal benefit.
Both men had left their positions last summer when knowledge of the allegations became public, although, awkwardly, Jensen went on to win re-election in November as a County Council member. If the Salt Lake County district attorney takes the state auditor up on his suggestion to consider criminal charges, Jensen could find himself in the position of representing the people he is alleged to have victimized.
A day later, the state auditor released a report on the Utah League of Cities and Towns, which represents Utah municipalities at the Utah Legislature and elsewhere. The League is not a government agency, but it is funded by taxpayers and therefore falls under the auditor's scrutiny.
And that scrutiny turned up another guy at the top who was allowed to get creative with his credit card. Ken Bullock, longtime executive director of the League, resigned Thursday after the audit revealed he charged $57,000 in personal expenses over four years. There was also another $130,000 in League expenses which lacked documentation to determine if they were for legitimate League business.
So what do these two outfits have in common?
In the case of Unified Fire, it's run by a board that includes elected officials from Salt Lake County and from the various municipalities served. In the case of the League of Cities and Towns, it's a board of city mayors and council members from all over the state.
For both the fire district and the league, they answer to no one because they answer to everyone. Their boards all have elected officials who are accountable to their constituents, but apparently they're only accountable for their own cities. We've seen similar weak oversight at the Utah Communications Authority, which oversees emergency communications. USA lost more than $1 million to embezzlement over 10 years.
The mayors and council members need to take the blame publicly for letting these cases happen. If they don't, taxpayers should remind them of their responsibilities when the next election rolls around.