A blistering state audit of the Unified Fire Authority, formerly led by Salt Lake County Councilman Michael Jensen, has prompted a separate county audit of expenditures by all nine council members and their staffs.
County Auditor Scott Tingley said Thursday his office will conduct a detailed examination of expenses within the council office after learning of the extent of the issues raised in two audits of the fire agency released Wednesday by state Auditor John Dougall.
The county auditor is an elected position independent of the council, although the council approves the auditor's annual budget.
Dougall's audits advised the UFA board to seek a criminal investigation of Jensen and the UFA's former deputy chief, Gaylord Scott, for allegedly misusing public money, nepotism and manipulating department policies for their own benefit.
It also recommended the board attempt to recover nearly $500,000 that the former chiefs and other UFA administrators had received through incentives, travel, lodging and meal reimbursements, severance packages and clothing allowances.
"When the allegations first came out [last summer] against Councilman Jensen, we did a cursory review of some council office expenditures, but nothing in depth," Tingley said. "Obviously, with the results of the state auditor's audits, we owe it to the public to do a deeper dive into expenditures and travel expenses and reimbursements."
This deeper evaluation "will not be focused solely on Jensen," he added, saying "we're looking at the whole County Council office just to be on the safe side."
Jensen said Wednesday that he welcomed the county audit.
"I'm glad he's doing the whole council," he added. "That will put it in perspective."
A day after criticizing Dougall for not allowing him to respond to the audit's accusations before they were made public, Jensen was even more incensed by the state auditor's relative leniency in his audit of finances at the Utah League of Cities & Towns and its longtime director Ken Bullock, who resigned from the organization Wednesday.
Dougall's audit found that Bullock charged $57,000 in personal expenses on the taxpayer-funded league's credit card over four years, but did not recommend a criminal investigation of his actions, saying Bullock paid most of those back.
The auditor did recommend a criminal probe of the league's former administrative services director, Michelle Reilly, who allegedly charged more than $30,000 in personal expenses to the league.
"The hypocrisy … is unbelievable to me," said Jensen, contending Dougall recommended criminal investigations of his transactions, which were much smaller than Bullock's and which he maintains he could have explained if given the chance.
He was particularly peeved that Dougall accused him of nepotism, then revealed only on the last page of the 53-page UFA audit that the auditor's son is a firefighter in the department.
Tingley said his office's initial review of line-item entries in the county's financial system did not disclose "anything that was a cause for alarm or any red flags."
But now auditors will look at backup documentation to ensure expenses and reimbursements were legitimate, properly reviewed and authorized, Tingley said, noting he will request UFA records so cross references may be made to determine if any double billing occurred.
"Hopefully, this will provide some assurance to the public that things are appropriate," Tingley said, expecting audit results to be available in four to six weeks.
County Council Chairman Steve DeBry, like Jensen a Republican, said the "council will cooperate with any investigation or audit since we are a public body and are transparent. … We will address any findings in an appropriate manner."