Questions about what happened to the city's fleet reserve fund are close to being answered - but those answers won't be coming, as expected, from an independent auditing firm.
City Council members agreed Tuesday night they can probably resolve an apparent $1.6 million discrepancy in the fund themselves with more study and additional discussions with city staff.Their report reconciling the fund is expected to be ready for the next council meeting.
And at this point, it appears the official position will be that the council already spent the money on purchases for the city's fleet and that those decisions were not adequately communicated to fleet manager Gordon Ryan.
Since Ryan didn't have the information, he assumed the money still should have been in his budget and concluded some $2 million had been diverted.
The council appeared to agree on that conclusion after City Manager Dan Dahlgren reported the city's independent auditor, KPMG Peat Marwick, has declined to answer questions about its audit of city books in a public forum.
However, three council members had already met privately with auditors earlier in the day to discuss the alleged discrepancy.
Council members voted 6-1 last week to ask its auditing firm for an explanation in the wake of a fiery debate over where the fleet's cash reserve had gone.
Councilman Jay Bowcutt, who has some auditing experience, said he arranged the private session Tuesday after Peat Marwick declined to meet in public. It takes four council members to constitute a quorum, so three of them were able to meet without violating the Utah Open Meetings Law.
While Bowcutt did not publicly share what went on in the meeting, it was readily apparent there is now some consensus about where the money went.
Councilman Gordon Haight attempted a motion saying the council finds both the fleet fund and the budget to be "in excellent shape" and giving the city's administration a glowing blanket endorsement. He also urged the council to end the controversy and get on with city business.
The motion - in an obvious slap at Ryan and Mayor Donna Evans - included an apology for "misleading and inaccurate statements" in news stories that publicized the fleet fund dispute.
Haight also attributed the disputed figures to alleged failures by Ryan to keep complete spread sheets and automatically reconcile his books to the city's audit.
Not only did the motion die for lack of a second, but other council members quickly distanced themselves from Haight's attempt to place blame on Ryan.
Councilman David Plouzek said that Ryan had in fact balanced his cash figures with the city numbers. He also noted the city audit was not the final authority on the fund because it was only a routine review of records - not a detailed audit to turn up discrepancies.
And Councilman Brian Pitts said the difference in figures was not due to mistakes so much as the fact Ryan was not provided with some key information about how the city was accounting for his fund.
Haight's motion incensed Ryan, who said he would not stand for having his 30-year public service career placed in jeopardy by being made a scape-goat. "What you've done is used a capital reserve replacement account to fund capital acquisitions," he said.
Bowcutt agreed with that assessment. "Most of it was council decisions to use the money for the acquisition of assets in the fleet fund," he said, noting those assets helped the city improve its fleet.
Haight then withdrew his motion, saying he had not intended to castigate Ryan.