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Something unusual happened when Tani Downing, who became the executive director of the Utah Department of Administrative Services a month ago, introduced her top staff to legislative budget-writers.
She publicly disclosed that one of them, state procurement officer Kent Beers, has been accused behind the scenes for years of breaking the law by disgruntled bidders, but repeatedly has been cleared by legislative and state audits. She and two senators then defended Beers, and called for a stop to the continuing attacks.
"There have been some allegations that Kent has not followed the law in awarding contracts. These are circulating again here on the Hill by a specific lobbyist [whom she did not name]. This has been going on for several years," Downing said in testimony on Friday.
Her department would explain later that it involves bids for a new online procurement system. Utah joined a collective of other states to choose a new mutual contractor, SciQuest. It would replace BidSync in Utah in March.
Downing said complaints that Beers violated rules in handling that "went to our executive director several years ago. She asked for an independent audit to look into it, which found he had done nothing incorrect and they even looked into his personal finances because the allegation was that he was personally benefiting from the awarding of contracts."
She added, "The next thing was it went to a bunch of legislators who asked for a legislative audit. So Kent went through another year of people looking again into his personal finances, and they again exonerated him."
Downing said it is happening again. "That same lobbyist is circulating the information again, and we've already had multiple meetings with the governor's office and some of you on this committee."
She said, "I want you to know Kent is a man of integrity. He is following the law."
Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, Senate chairman of the appropriations subcommittee where Downing testified, said he had investigated the matter, and is satisfied that Beers did nothing wrong.
"We found the previous audits that have been done by the legislative auditor, by the state auditor and other bodies. I think it's unfortunate that … one party that failed to get the state bid is dragging this on for multiple years. I think this issue has been resolved and put to bed," he said.
Harper added, "We cannot allow this to happen in the future where someone who did not get a contract goes through and continues to rage and pull up things, which have already been settled.... That is a disgrace to the state of Utah."
Harper also apologized to Beers.
"Mr. Beers, we apologize for the pain you have gone through on multiple occasions, but you're doing a great job for the state of Utah. So thank you very much. This contract on procurement was done properly."
Sen. Gregg Buxton, R-Roy, also defended Beers, and noted that Beers once was Buxton's deputy years ago when Buxton was director of the Utah Division of Facilities Construction and Management.
He called Beers "a man of integrity in all aspects of his life, let alone his finances." He also asked to be given the name of the lobbyist attacking him. "I will take that on face to face."
When The Tribune asked the identify of the lobbyist pushing allegations, Downing's department said in a statement that it does not have direct knowledge of the identity.