Conservative politicians have no business filling their offices with high-priced furniture bought with tax dollars, Utah County Commissioner Malcolm Beck says.
"I don't believe in that type of deal. That's not my idea of public service," he said. "I don't think it's a good expenditure of tax money to put luxury stuff in your office."Beck made the remarks in response to questions about furniture purchased for offices in the new county building, including items for the three commission offices.
Several pieces of new furniture were needed, Beck says, but he questions the purchase of such items as a $3,495 walnut desk and credenza by Commissioner Brent Morris. And he says the $1,660 that former Commissioner Gary Anderson spent on a leather-covered couch that no commissioner wants in his office could have been better spent.
Anderson also ordered a $3,100 desk and credenza, and two leather chairs totaling $1,600. One of the chairs was returned.
Those items are representative of office desks, the cheapest of which cost $2,350, and leather-covered chairs and sofas purchased for several offices in the new building.
Morris, who also ordered a $900 leather love seat and a $711 leather chair, justified the expenditures, as did County Attorney Steve Killpack.
"I have purchased furniture that will be here when I leave office, and that complements the building," he said. "It won't be tossed out in 10 years. It's something that can be utilized in 50 to 60 years. Some of the furniture is nice, but it all stays with the building."
Killpack said purchases for the attorney's offices are "conservative and consistent with the nature of work that transpires there. There is some value to the county and the taxpayers having furniture that will last."
According to a review of invoices and expenditure detail reports, attorney's office purchases included three desks and credenzas totaling $7,350, a reception station costing $2,742 and a $1,730 leather-covered sofa. The attorney's office also bought a brass pen set for $80 and a brass letter tray for $66.
All purchases, Killpack said, received commission approval. Morris said $130,000 was allotted to help furnish the new building.
County Clerk Bill Huish and Treasurer Leonard Ellis also got new desks and credenzas costing $2,500 and $2,700, respectively. In addition, the treasurer's office purchased a $985 leather chair and a $1,035 secretarial desk.
Killpack said the purchases are comparable with furniture in other government buildings and some of the new furniture replaced items employees had brought from home.
"Some furniture we have in our office is very, very old," Killpack said. "Some of our desks are basically cardboard. The package taken as a whole was a good investment. We stayed within the budget."
But Beck, who ordered a $2,500 desk but no other furniture, said less money should have been spent overall.
"The question is what we need to function, not what we need to look good," he said.
"I'm not trying to keep up with the Joneses, and I was quite surprised at the extent of what we ended up buying. We advertise ourselves as conservatives, and that should go right down to our own offices. I have some concerns."
Morris said the commission will follow through with plans to seek donations from local firms and private individuals to cover costs of furniture bought for the county attorney's office, the commission offices and the attorney and commission conference rooms.
"I favor that policy and I think it ought to be encouraged," said Commissioner Sid Sandberg, who has written a letter to Geneva Steel officials requesting a previously offered $6,000 donation to cover costs of two conference room tables.
Commissioners have been reluctant to seek the funds from Geneva because relations with the plant have been somewhat strained since a press conference two months ago in which Morris said Geneva should be more concerned with controlling pollution than making donations to the community.
"Regardless of what government does, there's always going to be criticism out there," Morris said. "But there aren't any apologies for the furniture. I'll take the heat for that."