SALT LAKE CITY — A Uintah County special service district that oversees transportation potentially violated open meetings laws on multiple occasions and had inadequate spending controls on payroll, credit cards, meals and travel, a new state audit says.
The report filed Wednesday by State Auditor John Dougall also notes that the Uintah Transportation Special Service District may not be maintaining its independence from county government.
The audit comes after three of the district's five-member board voted Sept. 11 to place the district's executive director, Adam Massey, on paid leave — the same day auditors planned to launch an "on-site investigation."
Massey earned about $168,000 in salary and benefits in 2016, according to the state's transparency website, www.utah.gov/transparency.
The Uintah special service district, created in 1998 to "construct, maintain and repair roads" in its area, is funded with federal mineral lease money, according to the district's website. It also manages the Vernal Regional Airport.
According to the auditor's report, the district's board may have violated state open meetings laws in several instances, and auditors have referred the findings to the Utah Attorney General's Office for review.
Those instances included a meeting in May 2015 when three board members signed an employment agreement with Massey. The final terms of the agreement were not discussed in an open meeting or voted on by the full board, auditors reported.
In November 2016, the board chairman approved a salary and benefits schedule for Massey that included a $14,500 commission for grants he procured or administered, as well as a 1 percent pay increase. Auditors said there was no record that the board chairman reported the results of a performance review to the rest of the board.
In May 2017, auditors said three of the five board members met with the district's management to discuss accounts payable issues. The next day, the board took action based on that discussion.
"This was not a chance meeting of board members, but was a coordinated meeting," auditors said. "Normally, this type of meeting would be recognized as a workshop and would be regarded as an open meeting."
Auditors said district board members have "repeatedly" claimed that "particular actions were administrative as justification for not waiting until a public meeting," but "we find these justifications baseless."
In a written response to the audit, district officials said they agree "that sometimes the district board has failed to properly comply" with the open meetings law, and the district "commits to get training on this subject for the chairman and other board members."
However, auditors also found that the district lacked adequate controls over credit card spending and payroll for Massey.
The auditor report states Massey cashed out 116 hours of paid time off — amounting to more than $6,000 in December 2016, and 80 hours amounting to $4,800 in April 2017 — and neither payment appears to have been approved by the board. Massey also got a $4,200 bonus in 2016, but it wasn't approved by the board in an open meeting, the audit found.Comment on this story
Auditors said the district also had inadequate policies to prevent overspending for meals and mileage. In 2016, meal purchases exceeded $5,600, and mileage reimbursements cost nearly $14,000, auditors said. The 2016 mileage costs "seem excessive," auditors said, and mostly was attributed to Massey taking four to five trips per month to various meetings throughout the state.
Auditors recommended that special service district leaders develop written policies for reimbursements, which district officials said in a written response they would follow.
Auditors also raised concerns that the special district might not be adequately independent from the Uintah County Commission because Commissioner Brad Horrocks sits on the district board.