Ken Bullock, executive director of the Utah League of Cities and Towns, loved to travel to watch his son, Elliott, play basketball for Stanford University. The trouble is, he used the credit card of his taxpayer-funded group to pay for it.
Bullock — a former outspoken watchdog member of Salt Lake City's 2002 Winter Olympics organizing committee — reimbursed the league more than $25,000 for the travel in 2014 and 2015. He said he used the league's card as a convenience to keep all his frequent-flier award miles together.
"I didn't do anything wrong," Bullock said Thursday. But he acknowledged that, in hindsight, "it creates a bad perception. It's easier to make decisions in hindsight."
The charges, found through documents leaked to The Salt Lake Tribune, raise questions about whether they amounted to loans, how much financial oversight the league has, and whether Bullock should personally benefit from frequent-flier mileage bought by taxpayers.
It comes after recent revelations that another former league administrator allegedly charged $5,000 to the group last year for personal trips and dinners. She repaid it after an audit found the charges — and retired. Another state audit is searching whether even more such charges occurred previously.
Trips • "I went to almost all of the games" during his son's years at Stanford, Bullock said. His 6-foot-11 son played mostly as a reserve for the Cardinal between 2008 and 2015 — an unusually long stint because he redshirted and served a Mormon mission.
Bullock provided copies of a March 2015 reimbursement check for $15,000, and another in June 2014 for $10,789 for two years' worth of basketball trips.
"There were checks for other years, too," he said.
Bullock said he usually traveled by himself, although records show he sometimes took others.
For example, league credit-card records show Bullock and his wife each bought $822 tickets to fly in and out of San Jose on Jan. 29, 2014, to watch Stanford play No. 1 Arizona in a nationally televised game. Arizona won 60-57.
"I was not hiding anything," Bullock said. He added he even asked aloud for other league staffers "to help me remember to pay this back."
Convenience • Bullock said he used the league's card "as a convenience. My frequent-flier miles were attached to that credit card, and it was a convenience to keep them all together," both for award miles earned for league and personal travel. "That is the only reason I used it."
Bullock said he sometimes has used the combined frequent-flier miles for personal use — and not for league travel — but "mainly they have just accrued" and sat untapped.
The league receives the lion's share of its funding through taxpayer money from Utah's cities. It provides training, research and lobbying on their behalf.
"I reimbursed the charges voluntarily," Bullock said, "and not because an audit found them."
That's in contrast to Michelle Reilly, the league's former director of administrative services, who repaid $5,000 that an audit said were charges made last year for personal expenses.
Reaction • Kaysville Mayor Steve Hiatt, the just-elected president of the league, said he had not heard about the basketball charge until The Tribune's inquiry.
"It may be a lapse in judgment, but I certainly wouldn't question his honesty. That said, it's best to have a third party like the state auditor to give an independent opinion," Hiatt said, noting the auditor has agreed, because of the charges by Reilly, to look at four years' worth of the leagues finances and credit-card charges by all employees.
"I reserve my judgment until that process is complete," Hiatt said.
State Auditor John Dougall said he could not comment on Bullock's charges because of his ongoing audit. But other recent audits by his office commented on similar actions by others.
One this year criticized Utah Dairy Council officials for making personal charges on the group's credit cards and urged a quick halt — even though they had been reimbursed.
Dougall wrote about that audit, "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."
Dougall's office also recently criticized a Washington County School District business administrator for using a personal credit card to buy items for the district so that would enhance the rewards earned on his card.
It said that amounted to "unreported compensation" and that "excluding this information from gross compensation impairs transparency."
Because of the problems found by an initial audit into Reilly's expenses, Bullock recommended changes last week to the league's board that would clearly prohibit the credit-card changes he made for the basketball trips.
Other expenses • The Tribune also found other questionable expenses by league officials in credit-card records during the past year.
For example, staffers made more than $42,000 in charges at restaurants. In most cases, the records did not say who exactly made the charges nor whom they were entertaining.
Bullock said most were for working lunches. He, for example, often huddles with city officials to talk about issues, "and when people meet, they tend to eat."
He said league rules require providing receipts and listing who was at the meal. However, he said, after another employee recently left the league, he found a "drawer full of those receipts" that had not been attached to the charges.
One of the meals was a $317 staff dinner at Frida Bistro to celebrate an employee's birthday. A $226 charge went for unnamed staffers for a dinner at the upscale Fleming's Steakhouse "in lieu of comp time" for overtime work.
The league also paid $267 total for four dinners with a Deseret News reporter, all at the Bout Time sports bar and grill. Bullock said he had some of the dinners with the reporter to talk about how the league could improve its news coverage.
Bullock noted that about 18 percent of the league's budget does not come from taxpayers, but instead is raised through donations by businesses. He said some of the dinners charged were paid using such funds.
The Tribune found other charges for personal items that Bullock said likely should not have been allowed, including paying some parking tickets, and buying an umbrella, a power adapter for use in England and a map of London.
Other charges included just under $100 for special bathroom deodorants with such names as "Poo-La-La" and "Trap-A-Crap." Bullock said they were charged by a former employee to help with some personal-hygiene problems.