Despite a department recommendation to exonerate Better Utah Inc. of the possible misuse of $20,000 in city money, Salt Lake Mayor Palmer DePaulis will further investigate the non-profit sports agency for "breach of trust."
Development Services Director Craig Peterson said Thursday he recommended to the mayor that Better Utah and its director, David Johnson, not be held responsible for repaying $20,160 questioned in a recent city audit.The audit found that Johnson had billed both the state and Salt Lake City for various expenditures related to the privatized organization's business as an amateur sports-promotion office.
Peterson said that although the money may not have been spent as Johnson said it would be, the funds did go toward the promotion of amateur sports in the city. Therefore, he recommended Johnson not repay the money.
DePaulis told reporters Thursday the manner in which Johnson spent the money was a "matter of trust."
"I don't want to make any accusations or allegations or cause anyone to believe that they've done anything fraudulently wrong at this point. But we are thoroughly going to investigate that (the expenditures)," he said.
"If they (Better Utah) have not dealt with us in a trustworthy fashion they will not deal with us in the future . . . Even though it may be perfectly audit acceptable, there still may be a breach of trust involved and that to me is a very serious matter.'
The city is not considering criminal charges at this time, DePaulis said. Assistant City Attorney Steve Allred said Wednesday his office is reviewing the audit findings.
Peterson said the audit, conducted by city grant manager Gaylen Rasmussen, concluded that Johnson met the broad objectives set by the city when it agreed to contribute $30,000 annually to the group since 1986.
But DePaulis said, "I think the issue of breach of trust outweighs a clean audit."
The city wants to "send a signal" in the wake of the Better Utah controversy, which has ties to another state audit on the group's affiliate, the Utah Sports Foundation, that other non-profit organizations receiving city money will be closely monitored.
"We will be scrutinizing your books, we will be auditing your functions to make sure . . . that you are doing what you told us you would do and the money is not being spent on anything else," DePaulis said.
He later said that some non-profit organizations should be given leeway in presenting expenditures of city money to the city.
The city contributes money under its municipal-affairs program to various organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce, the Utah League of Cities and Towns and the Salt Lake City Arts Council.
The state legislative auditor general is conducting an audit on the Sports Foundation that is to be released Nov. 15. Dave Adams, director of the state Department of Community and Economic Development, which oversees the Sports Foundation, regretted the city released its audit Monday.
"I felt that something to be released this early before an election when it can't be responded to has political overtones,' he said.
But DePaulis said he released his audit after a media request, a response that is consistent with his policy of an "open administration."
The mayor angrily defended releasing the audit but lamented the "highly charged political atmosphere" that has surrounded its release late Monday afternoon.
"I don't want to be perceived as using something like that in a highly charged political atmosphere," he said, complaining of an extremely negative campaign season.
"I think the public is fed up with all the negative kind of advertising and commentary," he said.