A clerk/auditor who previously decried COVID relief spending on a hill of tubes warns that giving the commission more control means “putting the fox in the henhouse.”
The three Uintah County commissioners are considering removing accounting services from the office of the clerk/auditor and instead assigning them to the county’s budget manager.
At a town hall meeting on Monday, critics argued that the move gives county lawmakers too much power, since the clerk/auditor is an elected position, but the budget manager is hired — and can be fired — by the Commission.
“This was raised for a variety of reasons, but the main reason is that our checks and balances seem to have gone a little out of whack,” Commissioner Bill Stringer said at the meeting, which was covered by the Uintah Basin standard.
But county residents argued the proposal disrupted an important check on the commission’s power.
“You take duties from an elected official and hand them over to someone who is accountable to you,” one commentator said. “It’s not a check or a balance, it’s a matter of control.”
The commission approved its $49.7 million annual budget earlier this month, but county revenues have seen steep declines in recent years due to collapsing mining lease funds.
Commissioners have yet to vote on whether to strip the accounting authority’s clerk/auditor, but commission chairman Brad Horrocks told the Salt Lake Tribune a decision could be made within a month. .
“It would relieve some pressure on him so he could do audits,” Horrocks said. “I am not aware of an ongoing audit in over four years that I have been here.”
In an interview, Uintah County Clerk/Auditor Michael Wilkins said he did not support removing the accounting authority from his office.
“You take every internal check, every system of checks and balances and pass them directly to the governing body,” said Wilkins, who is in his fifth term. “There have been times over the years when we have had to stand up and say ‘this is not right’. A person who reports directly to them will not have the opportunity to do so for fear of losing his work.
Specifically, Wilkins said he publicly questioned the commissioners’ decision to spend $19,999 each on six snow cannons for a controversial tubing hill paid for with federal pandemic funds. The amount paid for the machines is exactly one dollar below the threshold that would have required the county to solicit bids.
Horrocks said Wilkins has been unwilling to tell the commissioners how county money is being used.
“He made several statements that ‘I’m not telling you commissioners where the money is, you’re just going to spend it,'” Horrocks said.
The commissioner added that Wilkins was “under investigation”, but would not say why or who was leading the investigation.
“I don’t know what I want to say now, but this investigation has been going on for a month,” Horrocks said. “I better not say more than that.”
The discussion between the Uintah commission’s clerk and auditor took place the same week the Utah County commission removed budget oversight from its clerk/auditor, which Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson called ” crazy” and Utah Senator Jake Anderegg called it a “power grab”.
Utah County commissioners reversed their decision on Friday, saying that after getting feedback from residents, they would vote at the next meeting on an “indefinite pause” on the change.
The Uintah Commissioners stripped their Budget Oversight Clerk/Auditor in October 2019, when they created the current position of Budget Officer.
“[Now] they would take all of the accounts payable, payroll, basically the services that I have provided to the county for 34 years,” Wilkins said. “It’s just not a good idea. You put the fox in the chicken coop.