SALT LAKE CITY — State Auditor Auston Johnson on Monday issued another audit highlighting past problems of a local entity, this time about Springdale police collecting traffic fines in cash from foreign tourists, a practice that ended in 2011.
Last month, Syracuse Mayor Jamie Nagle accused the longtime state official of unfairly using past problems in her city as "political fodder" in his re-election bid. Johnson faces a challenger, Rep. John Dougall, R-American Fork, in the June 26 GOP primary.
The Syracuse report dealt with an accounting issue that was corrected after being discovered by city officials in 2010. The auditor's office said the mayor was trying to "deflect the issue" and that the public needed to know how the issue was resolved.
Springdale officials have not made similar charges, instead issuing a press release Monday stating the police have made the corrections recommended by the audit and that after conducting an investigation, are confident no criminal activity occurred.
The five-page audit said the reason for examining Springdale's records was a complaint from a European tourist visiting nearby Zion National Park, which claimed she was told after getting a citation that she had to pay the fine immediately in cash.
More than $11,000 was collected as a result of the practice from January 2011 until the practice was discontinued in October 2011, the audit found, including instances where defendants underpaid their fines because they didn't have enough cash, or overpaid because the officer didn't have change.
The town said in its response that defendants were given the option of mailing their fine, appearing before a magistrate or paying cash on the spot, which officials said had been agreed to by the Hurricane Justice Court.
The audit also raised questions about citations that have not been accounted for, suggesting there's a possibility that officers could have written tickets, collected the fines in cash, destroyed the documents and kept the cash.
The audit said the court indicated it had not authorized the practices, which would have violated state laws because setting bail and collecting fines are judicial rather than police functions.
Of 423 citations used for cash bail from January 2011 to January 2012, the audit found one-third missing from the town's records. Springdale, the auditor noted, was not aware of the missing citations.
The town's response in the audit noted the citations identified as missing were from a box of decade-old citations accessible to both current and former police officers and that an internal investigation was conducted.
Springdale Police Chief Kurt Wright interviewed the current officials "and felt confident that they were truthful with him and had not committed fraud or theft," the town's response stated.