CEDAR CITY – The Cedar City Council was split Wednesday night 3-2 in favor of continuing the city’s relationship with the Utah League of Cities and Towns after a recent audit exposed possible theft and misuse of public monies.
Councilmembers Terri Hartley, Craig Isom and Ron Adams all stated they were willing to give the organization another chance even after a state audit pointed out accusations of misspending of nearly $50,000 by the group’s former executive director Ken Bullock. The money was used for various travel expenses while Bullock was traveling around the country watching his son play basketball.
Utah State Auditor John Dougall likened the expenses to a loan as Bullock had paid almost all of the money back, short of an estimated $11,000.
The report also questions another $130,000 in charges that lacked documentation proving they were for business purposes. A criminal investigation has been called for by the State Auditor’s Office.
Additionally, Dougall’s office concluded that Bullock failed to take action against the league’s former director of administrative services, Michelle Reilly, who the audit said embezzled the league’s funds by charging more than $26,000 in personal expenses to the group’s credit card. It was also alleged there was more than $57,000 in “questionable” purchases due to a lack of receipts.
The league’s financial scandal, largely blamed by the auditor’s office on a lack of oversight by the board, has rocked the confidence of at least two Cedar City Council members.
Councilmen Fred Rowley and Paul Cozzens both expressed their concerns during Wednesday’s council meeting about giving the taxpayer-funded organization another estimated $20,000 in dues and fees this coming year.
Even assurances from Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, that ULCT’s board had taken corrective action did not persuade the councilmen to change their minds.
“Whether they’ve cleaned up their situation or not is beside the point,” Rowley said. “(Let’s) give it a couple of years to see if we can live without the league. Meanwhile, they can truly prove to us that they’ve taken care of the issues while we use that money to do some other things.”
Rowley added that he felt the money should be used toward other things such as sidewalks, the arts council and hiring a part-time inspector.
Isom, Hartley and Adams didn’t agree.
Hartley and Isom, both in their first term in office, discussed the benefits they believed the league offered to them as newcomers – specifically the annual training ULCT provides that they described as “invaluable.”
Still, while membership with ULCT may be “nice” Rowley continued to question whether it is “really needed.”
Isom pointed to ULCT’s additional lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill during the legislative session in Salt Lake City, arguing that the organization gives the city a voice among lawmakers.
“I most appreciated what I saw them do this year during the legislature and the updates they provided to me constantly during the session,” Isom said. “They’re running interference for towns and cities and think there’s great value for our city in that.”
Vickers validated Isom’s comments saying he had personally seen how the league works on behalf of Utah’s cities and towns during the 45-day legislative session.
The idea of government lobbying government via taxpayers’ money however was a grave concern for Cedar City resident Brad Green.
“It scares the hell out of me,” he said.
Green argued against the city spending money for membership to ULCT for several reasons but stated unequivocally his opposition to the organization acting as a lobbying group.
“These lobbying groups that are funded by government for government are the largest most influential lobbying groups across the country,” Green said. “They have more power over the legislative powers than they do the citizens. The entire purpose, the only reason it is moral to exist is to protect the freedoms of the individuals. This organization has lost my trust.”
Cedar City resident Blaine Nay also spoke to the issue stating the people elected the city council not the league.
“I think the bigger problem is, we elected you people to represent us not the league. We elected the state legislature to represent us, not the league,” Nay said. “You are lobbying for us. I don’t see a need for this extra layer of bureaucracy to suck off some of our tax money and do the lobbying for us. It’s us and our elected representatives who should be doing the lobbying.”
The council is slated to vote on the issue during its weekly meeting Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. at the City Council Chambers located at 10 No. Main Street.
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