Democratic lawmaker says he’s ‘ashamed’ of the ‘preposterous’ U. athletics audit

First Published Feb 06 2017 02:15PM    •    Last Updated Mar 09 2017 05:41 pm

A Utah senator apologized to the University of Utah and its athletic director, Chris Hill, on Monday, while urging his legislative colleagues to do the same. 

Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, made his comments in response to a legislative audit of the University of Utah athletic department, which found relatively minor financial and inventory infractions amid generally positive budgetary practices.

Legislative auditors had conducted their investigation professionally, Dabakis said, but their task was "a preposterous audit that was done for a foolish reason as punishment." 

The audit was ordered by lawmakers last year after the men's basketball game against in-state rival Brigham Young University was scrapped, resulting in a cancellation fee of $80,000. 

The audit also found lapses in the tracking of athletics inventory and access to U. facilities, along with a failure to report indirect costs as required by the NCAA . 

But Dabakis said the minute points of concern identified in the audit illustrate the lack of proper motivation for launching the probe. 

"I want to say how ashamed I am of the Legislature for proposing this audit, putting that burden on you," Dabakis told the auditors who prepared the report. "I hope that Chris Hill will get a giant apology for paying this price for being dragged through the mud in the media and other places for an audit that just should never have happened." 

Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, said he looks at audits as a way to improve practices and not necessarily as a punishment or burden. 

He agreed that the investigation lacked merit, but said it was encouraging that U. administrators were receptive to and cooperative with the work of legislative auditors. 

"I don't think the audit should have been called for but it was, and I think our auditors did an excellent job," Vickers said. "The end result was some good constructive information." 

Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said it is the responsibility of the Legislature to systematically look at areas of government. 

Many of those audits show good results, he said, but in the event that issues are discovered, the process allows for correction and improvement. 

He said the U. audit highlights areas of potential concern for all of the state's public campuses. 

"We do focus on one entity," he said, "but it does provide policy questions and changes for all those in that same category." 

bwood@sltrib.com

Twitter: @bjaminwood