SALT LAKE CITY — As Utah lawmakers considered new board appointees for the Utah Communications Authority, one senator asked what the new emergency communication authorities would do to increase transparency and accountability.
On Monday morning, Members of the Senate Transportation, Public Utilities, Energy and Technology Confirmation Committee confirmed Clinton Topham, Gary Whatcott, Randy Swalberg, Dean Cox, Lance Davenport, John Park and Craig Dearden to the organization in charge of Utah's public safety radio infrastructure.
The action was taken in the aftermath of embezzlement charges against Utah Communications Authority employee.
Patricia Lynn Nelson, a 17-year employee who worked as an administrative assistant with the agency, was sentenced in May to 27 months in prison and ordered to pay $1.2 million in restitution after charging several large personal expenses to Utah Communications Authority credit cards and fabricating receipts to hide the scam that went on from 2005 to 2016.
An audit by the legislative auditor general in August 2016 revealed that the scam might have been detected by state auditors in 2011 if they had exercised greater skepticism in reviewing the Utah Communications Authority.
Ultimately, the audit determined that the agency held the primary responsibility in detecting the fraudulent behavior.
As the Senate committee considered each of the new board appointees, Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, asked several of them what they would do to increase transparency and the accountability of the organization's spending.
Whatcott, South Jordan's city manager, said he is aware of the accountability problems faced by "quasi-governmental" organizations like the Utah Communications Authority. He said he has experience in "understanding that accountability that is required of public money."
"I think I can bring something to the table both from a public safety perspective and from an administrative perspective," Whatcott said.
Before the Senate committee offered a unanimous confirmation of the new board members, Harper offered his own words of warning and encouragement.
"Make sure that you review everything," he said. "Dig in. Make sure that you have some goals and some objectives out there."
The new appointees will be submitted to the full Senate for approval.