Federal judge rejects auditor's fight over budget
Another day in court, another rejection of the legal fight by Salt Lake County Auditor Greg Hawkins to keep some budgeting functions from being shifted from his office to the mayor's.
U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups denied Hawkins' request Tuesday for a temporary restraining order to block a County Council decision, which took effect this week, to move eight budget-division employees to the Mayor's Office.
The transfer of responsibilities, which includes tracking incoming revenue to the county treasury, was recommended in a council-solicited report by the Government Finance Officers Association. The report said that consolidating budget preparations under the mayor, who presents a budget that ultimately is approved by the council, would improve the county's "effectiveness, efficiency and collaboration."
Hawkins argued that the move strips him of duties he was elected to oversee, making it unlawful, and removes a vital check-and-balance in protecting taxpayer money.
But 3rd District Judge Sandra Peuler ruled against the Republican auditor on Dec. 15, denying his request for a preliminary injunction to stop the transfer. A week later, the Utah Supreme Court refused to consider Hawkins' appeal of Peuler's ruling.
Now a federal judge has ruled that the case is a state matter.
"I certainly hope the auditor will rethink his strategy," County Mayor Peter Corroon said after the 90-minute hearing Tuesday afternoon. "This is a colossal waste of taxpayer dollars to fight this battle. The message should be clear that what has transpired is legal and a step toward good government as well."
The Democratic mayor said the eight budget-division employees have made the move to his office. "Hopefully, it will be a relatively seamless transition," Corroon added. "They all know their jobs well, and we'll put them to work."
Council Chairman Max Burdick, a Republican, agreed with Corroon.
"I'll be glad when all of this is over," Burdick said, "so we can stop this needless waste of taxpayers' money defending what I think is the council's great decision to move toward more effective government by stopping duplicative services."
Hawkins said he is not about to give up his fight, contending that none of the judicial decisions has addressed the merits of his case.
"The County Council and mayor unlawfully have taken part of my office without the vote of the people," he said. "We haven't lost anything. We just haven't gotten our TRO [temporary restraining order]."