An auditor with an eagle eye

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 1 2014 6:32 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — First, there’s the name. It’s almost too perfect for the job. John Dougall. Rhymes with frugal.

Who else would you want to audit the state’s books?

Voters handily swept Dougall into office in the 2012 elections, favoring him in the June Republican primary by 54 percent to 46 percent despite the fact he was running against incumbent Auston Johnson, an experienced, respected CPA who had been in office for 17 years. In the November general election, Dougall outpolled two challengers, winning with 65 percent of the vote.

Thus was the state auditor’s office turned over to a person who ran as “The Most Frugal Man in the World,” his campaign ads boasting such attributes as “He bought a turtle for a family pet because it eats less” and “He always rounds numbers down.”

Beyond frugality, Dougall’s campaign called for sweeping changes in the way the auditor’s office does business, demanding a departure from what was painted as a passive, backstage approach to a more active, engaged, in-front-of-the-curtain type role.

No one who knows John Dougall was surprised at either his colorful campaign or his crusade for change. At 47, his life is full of both. He is the oldest of 11 children belonging to John and Marilyn Dougall. His dad, a CPA, was the original Frugal Dougall. “With 11 kids, he had to be,” says John. “We all did.”

Born in Southern California and raised in Portland, Ore., John had a paper route when he was 8 and has held some kind of employment ever since. He graduated from BYU with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering and followed that with an MBA degree, also from BYU; along the way he went to work for various technology companies that were sprouting everywhere in the early 1990s and vying for his services.

“I had a choice between East Coast and West Coast,” says Dougall. “East Coast was dress shirts and ties, and West Coast T-shirts, shorts and jeans. I chose West Coast.”

He eventually returned to Utah to work for 3Com and later wound up winning the 2002 election for the state House of Representatives from his district in the Highland/Alpine/American Fork area. He won five two-year terms in the House before seeking the auditor’s post in 2012.

Despite his roots, he is a lifelong Republican. “I was in high school when Ronald Reagan got elected,” he says without further explanation. “I am from Oregon, and when folks see my political leanings and they know I lived in Southern California, Portland and the San Francisco Bay Area, they say, ‘What happened?’ I say, ‘I saw everything that didn’t work.’ ”

The Deseret News sat down with Utah’s state auditor, whose year anniversary is approaching on Jan. 7, to talk about his first year on the job.

DN: Thanks for meeting with us. How would you describe the way you see the auditor’s role in state government?

JD: I campaigned on the premise that rather than just being the accountant-in-chief, the auditor should be a constitutional watchdog, making sure tax money is being spent legally, efficiently and effectively. I didn’t think status quo was acceptable. I had a different vision for the office. It’s my job to help drive change and improvement. While I was in the House we talked about what the governor thought about policies, what the AG thought about policies, sometimes what the treasurer thought about policies, but nobody was talking about what the auditor thought about policies. From my perspective that’s not how it should be. The recommendations of the auditor’s office should be part of the conversation.

DN: How do you communicate that vision to your staff and to the public?

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