The quasi-governmental agency stung by a $1 million decadelong embezzlement is shrouded in mystery.
Unlike most government offices, its finances are not online and you can't easily find out the salary of Steven Proctor, the longtime executive director who resigned in the wake of the scandal, or Patricia Nelson, his administrative assistant who, along with her daughter, confessed to siphoning off the public money.
The Utah Communications Authority (UCA) overseeing emergency communications and 911 services is one of the least transparent agencies in the state — and, it turns out, its secretiveness violates state law.
State Auditor John Dougall warned the UCA in a letter sent last week that unless the agency provides the required financial and salary information promptly to the transparency website, he would exercise his power to cut off its funding.
"The purpose of the website is to permit Utah taxpayers to view, understand and track the use of taxpayer dollars," wrote Dougall, a former lawmaker who helped sponsor the law.
Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, is a member of the transparency board and sponsor of a 2014 law that added "independent agencies" such as UCA to the list of offices required to report their finances.
Henderson believes UCA's lack of transparency might help explain why Nelson was able to make personal charges on several agency credit cards for 10 years until she was caught through a fluke.
"Nobody was looking over their shoulder," she said. "Sunlight is the best disinfectant in cases like these."
Sunlight is something sorely missing at UCA.
In addition to the absence of online reporting of finances and salaries, there's a dearth of information about the activities of the 25-member board that oversees the agency. The most recent board minutes published by UCA were from mid-October — despite many meetings since then.
In the wake of the resignations of Proctor, Nelson and the agency's former accountant, Kathy Trees, UCA refers any question about its operations to Tina Mathieu, the board chairwoman, who works as the executive director for the Weber-area 911 and emergency services district.
Mathieu responded to The Salt Lake Tribune's request for salary information for Proctor and Nelson only after the newspaper filed an open-records request. Proctor, who headed the agency for at least 17 years after retiring from a previous state job, was paid an annual salary of $144,811, plus an unspecified 401(k) contribution.
Nelson was paid an hourly rate of $24.15, plus full benefits, although the amount was unspecified.
Mathieu said neither received severance pay, but she did not immediately respond to a question of whether Nelson was paid after first being put on leave Jan. 11. That move came after an agency technician found a credit-card statement left on a printer. The technician turned over the statement to Trees, who recognized that the format was unusual and that there were charges, including PetSmart and Michaels, that were unrelated to UCA operations.
It was Trees who pressed the matter with Nelson and Proctor, according to court records. The accountant quit March 21 for undisclosed reasons, and an attempt to contact her was unsuccessful.
Proctor resigned April 7, the same day the UCA board held a closed-door meeting and one day before it issued a news release and a statement to "stakeholders" — state and local emergency and public safety agencies — to disclose the embezzlement.
By then, the agency's lawyers already had locked up confessions and a 3rd District Court civil judgment against Nelson and her daughter, Crystal Evans, for $2.3 million. That includes the $1 million in illegitimate charges, more than $500,000 in interest and more than $700,000 in punitive damages.
A criminal investigation is underway, according to the UCA.
While Dougall, the state auditor, discovered the agency's violation of the transparency law in recent days, the state Division of Finance had long known of it and made repeated attempts — three emails and two phone calls — to get compliance, beginning in September 2014. The agency dealt with Trees, who in the last call, in June 2015, said she hadn't had time to gather and submit the required information, but would get to it.
Marilee Richins, of the Department of Administrative Services, said there were no further contacts because the finance division has only one employee assigned to transparency-website compliance. The division has no enforcement authority on its own, but could report lapses to the state auditor.
Setting up a protocol to do so is "a conversation that we're having in the office," Richins said.
Mathieu told The Tribune she was unaware that the agency had not been reporting and would follow up to bring UCA in compliance.
Dan Harrie contributed to this report.