To the editor:
County auditors in Utah do have duties to examine county records throughout county government. This was recognized in a recent informal opinion issued by the Attorney General's Office.The writer of a recent Deseret News editorial discussing the opinion limited his or her comments to only one of the Utah Code sections treated in the opinion. That section (17-19-10) makes it the duty of county auditors to examine records of certain named county officials and to report any violations of law to the county commission.
The editorial writer did not observe that the opinion specifically recognized other sections of the code under which county auditors examine county records in various contexts for various stated purposes without being limited to the records of certain officials.
One of the questions asked in the State Auditor's opinion request was whether the section 17-19-10 duties of county auditors extended only to the officials named in the section. To this question the opinion answered "yes." It did so, not because of any policy preference of the opinion writer, but because the section was clear and specific.
Policy arguments had been advanced (not by my office) that would substantially limit or even eliminate the role of the county auditor. They included arguments that a 1975 law requiring annual audits by an independent auditor made the auditor's watch-dog role obsolete, and that making an official both a watch-dog over and an assistant to the county commission created an unworkable conflict of interest.
Policy arguments have been advanced by others, including the editorial writer, in support of enlarging the role of the county auditor. These arguments focus on the growth county governments have experienced over time.
But the opinion writer does not have license in his interpretation of statutes to choose from among competing policy arguments. His job is not to make the law. His job is to follow the law.
If the Legislature wants to change the law, that is up to the Legislature, so long as it stays within constitutional limits. This is what separation of powers means. And separation of powers in civil government is essential to our liberties.
Tt is entirely appropriate for the Deseret News to recommend changes in the law that it considers to be desirable.
Ralph L. Finlayson
Assistant Attorney General