A misunderstanding between the Utah County Council of Governments and a Salt Lake development and consulting firm has sparked a controversy over a $16,000 fee for lobbying that the council says it never requested.
County commissioners, who support legislation to establish a Utah Lake Authority, were stunned this week to get a $16,000 bill from Ecometrix Corp. for drafting, sponsoring, promoting and lobbying SB77, the Utah Lake Authority Act of 1989.If approved, the authority would oversee the establishment and coordination of programs to develop land around Utah Lake.
According to an accompanying letter written by Ecometrix employee David G. Yurth on Jan. 29, his corporation actually has done more than $66,000 worth of work to promote the legislation on behalf of the county and COG.
Commissioners met with Yurth on Friday and told him COG never contracted for his firm's services. They also asked that Ecometrix cease representing itself on behalf of the county and Council of Governments.
Commissioner Sid Sandberg said COG members discussed the lake authority at their Jan. 5 meeting but that no approval was given for Ecometrix to proceed with work on COG's behalf.
"That's a leap of monumental proportions," Sandberg said. Sandberg said Ecometrix's conduct was the result of presumption and serious error.
But Yurth said Ecometrix worked hard on the bill "and now you're not going to pay us. We've been working 14 hours a day trying to get the job done."
No written contract was drawn up between Ecometrix and COG, but Yurth claimed COG made a motion last month to fund his firm's efforts with $20,000 in proceeds from the sale of a dredge.
At the COG meeting, Sandberg said, Yurth never mentioned Ecometrix or that he was representing anyone but himself. He called Yurth's reference to any work agreement with COG, oral or written, "something of his own creation."
A review of COG minutes supports the commissioners. Commissioner Brent Morris made a related motion, however, "to support development of the Utah Lake Authority" and to have the county attorney's office "look into" using proftis from the sale of the dredge for study and preparation of the authority.
Deputy county attorney Guy Burningham said money from the dredge, provided by the federal government, must be used "in-house" and cannot be used to pay outside firms for anything.
Besides, Sandberg told Yurth, the Council of Governments has no power to approve expenditures of any type.
"You probably don't understand the process," Commissioner Malcolm Beck added. "COG has no authority to spend any money for anybody. They can adopt a resolution, but they can't fund anything. COG can't expend public funds."
However, Beck said, Yurth is welcome to attend the next COG meeting and ask the mayors who comprise the council to appeal to their respective city councils for money to pay Ecometrix for its work.
"But right now, neither Sid nor Brent nor I have authority to pay you a dime," Beck said. He said Yurth can continue lobbying for the lake authority legislation, "But you're doing it on your own if you do it."
Yurth said Ecometrix - which prepares feasibility studies, develops project designs and writes bond documents - has a financial interest in seeing the lake authority approved. But he said he felt his firm was specifically instructed to go to work.
"There has really been a basic failure to communicate, gentlemen," he said. Yurth said Ecometrix has completed 80 percent of the work he feels the firm was asked to do.>