Utah law outlining the duties of county auditors was written nearly 100 years ago: They were to examine the books of the assessor, attorney, clerk, recorder, sheriff, surveyor, and treasurer. Those were the only county offices that existed late in the previous century.
In the intervening years, a great many other county agencies have come into existence. They deal with things like animal control, parks, mental health, aging, and even a planetarium in Salt Lake County, to name just a few.Common sense would indicate that the auditor would also routinely examine these other county agencies as part of his job. And that's the way it has been handled in every county. Somebody clearly must be the watchdog and evaluate the county agencies.
But an informal opinion issued this week by the state attorney general's office has put that traditional practice in doubt. It says the state law on auditor's duties must be strictly interpreted and that other entities not mentioned in the law cannot be assumed to be included.
The opinion arose out of a dispute in Davis County where the auditor has complained the county commissioners are meddling with her office and trying to limit her scope of operation.
While the Davis County issue may have been the basis of the opinion - which does not have the force of law - it obviously impacts all county auditors and county agencies.
To avoid any legal problems, the state auditor and the Legislature are examining ways to change the law in the legislative session next January to include other county agencies.
However, any alteration in the language of the law should not fall into the same trap. It should be written so that every county agency doesn't have to be mentioned by name. Otherwise, the law will have to be tinkered with repeatedly.