Charging the county's auditor has failed to do her job, the Davis County Commission Wednesday relieved auditor Ruth Kennington of her internal auditing duties and announced a private firm will be hired instead.
The action brings to a head a long-standing battle between the commissioners and Kennington that has spilled over into the county's primary and general elections.Kennington was not in her office Wednesday when the commissioners made the announcement and is reported to be out of the state.
The commission also announced that funding for an internal auditor position in Kennington's office, added a year ago at her request, will be cut off immediately, eliminating the position.
The commissioners already have transferred two employees out of Kennington's department and into the county's administration department on the grounds Kennington was blocking them from doing their work.
Despite numerous requests from the commission that all departments be audited, "Ms. Kennington has failed in this regard despite her meeting with the commission at the beginning of her term of office and agreeing that internal audits were a high priority for her office," the commission announced in a news release.
Kennington is an elected official and cannot be dismissed by the commissioners, but they control the funding and personnel level in her office.
The commission also cannot block Kennington from acting as the county's budget officer and auditing the departments of elected county officials, as defined by state law.
The commissioners charged that Kennington has used her office, and confidential financial information to which she has access, to disrupt county operations.
Incomplete and inaccurate information has been given to political opponents by Kennington that resulted in a complaint being filed against the county, the commissioners said, and Kennington has used one of her staff members to write and send out false letters to various weekly and daily newspapers.
Wednesday's announcement is the latest development in a battle between the auditor and commission members that goes back to shortly after Kennington took office in January 1987.
Commission chairman Harold Tippetts said Wednesday that Kennington was asked and encouraged from the beginning of her tenure to audit all of the county's departments, not limited to the ones specified in the state statute.
A letter of agreement stating that, and the preferred order in which the audits would be done, was drawn up the first month Kennington took office, he said.
But since then, only an audit of the county attorney's office and the animal control department has been completed, he said, despite the commission's reluctant agreement to hire an additional employee, internal auditor Jim Larson, at Kennington's request.
And, the commissioners said, Kennington has not carried out her duties as the county's chief budget officer.
The commission has been meeting with department heads to draw up a budget for the coming fiscal year. Commissioner William Peters said Kennington has attended only two of the budget meetings, in addition to failing to provide the commission with important financial information such as current funding levels in some of the departments.
The commissioners also charged that Kennington has abused her office and county materials, time, and employee time for political purposes.
Those allegations surfaced this week after Kennington and Larson were questioned in depositions in connection with a legal action filed in September seeking to oust commissioners Tippetts, Peters, and former commissioner and now interim County Clerk Glen Saunders.
The complaint, filed four days before the September primary election, charges the three with misuse of office, malfeasance, and misuse of county funds.
The commissioners said depositions taken from Kennington and Larson by the county attorney's office revealed that Kennington "was aware or directly involved in the following abuses of staff, equipment, and corresponding county funds:
- Misusing county equipment by generating political comments during hours of employment.
- Condoning the use by an employee of a fictitious name or names under which several letters to the editor were written concerning the auditor's office and county government. Some of the letters were published.
- Directing an employee to deliver incomplete, inaccurate and selected information concerning the actions of county employees and elected officials.
- Failure to use county equipment and supplies in a prudent and frugal manner and using supplies to promote personal political opinions.
- Benefiting acquaintances by releasing selected privileged information to individuals not authorized to receive it.
- Distributing confidential wage and time information to persons not authorized to receive it.
- Preventing staff from performing assigned internal auditing duties and instead engaging in prohibited political activity and other unsatisfactory behavior during working hours."