Another special district, another messy audit. This time it happened in Copperton, where board members have allegedly double-dipped by collecting board pay while hiring themselves for district work. That is an obvious violation of state law and tramples on good judgment and the trust of Copperton's populace. The situation should quickly be corrected and, if the allegations are proven, restitution made.

Unfortunately, such actions undermine the credibility of all special districts, including the majority that are run with competence and integrity. Like several other similar cases, this one fuels suspicion that special service districts operate in the dark and are too often unaccountable for what they do.That generally is not the case. But it doesn't take many instances like this one to have legislators calling for stricter oversight or outright abolishment of this unique form of government. That would be too bad, since special service districts serve a meaningful role by providing a form of local government that can focus on delivering specific services with expertise and benefits from economies of scale.

According to the legislative audit, all three members of the Copperton Improvement District were paid wages in 1996 besides receiving approved board compensation. State law is clear that a board stipend is all trustees should receive, besides travel reimbursement, and that they cannot earn any other money from the district. The conflict of interest is obvious.

There were other discrepancies unearthed in the audit, including an inability to account for $25,000 worth of district property, lack of detailed inventories, use of district materials and manpower for personal use and accusations of illegal chemical dumping on its own property and land belonging to Kennecott Copper.

It all points to a strong need for hasty cleanup literally and figuratively and is a reminder to special-district trustees and personnel that, whether closely watched or not, their actions must be above reproach.