Utah Lt. Gov. Greg Bell is under investigation for an abuse of power charge after allegations that he intervened in a child abuse case and launched a vendetta against Palmer DePaulis, the executive director of the Utah Department of Human Services. Bell commissioned an audit of the department while apparently engaged in a disagreement with DePaulis over how a child abuse case was being handled.
Bell denies any wrongdoing, adding that his actions were taken because a family, complaining of how they were treated by caseworkers, asked him for help in the matter.
The Bell case is being investigated, and it’s inappropriate for anyone to reach a conclusion at this time. However, we’ve long been troubled by legislators or other government officials having the power to call an audit just because a friend or constituent, or both, are unhappy with how they are being treated by a government agency. A proper procedure and, most importantly, a consensus of many persons, should precede the type of audit that Bell requested.
Audits should not be used as an intimidation procedure. They should not be a tool that is applied in a random manner based on the desire of a leader. There needs to far more than one individual, or even a few individuals, in agreement with having an audit before one is started.
Having a broad-based approval process before starting an audit along the lines of that requested by Lt. Gov. Bell would serve to protect the initiator from charges of abusing power. The issues would have been laid out for review ahead of time and a subsequent audit would have a stamp of approval through review by the Legislature or an appointed panel.
In short, we need a uniform manner to conduct these kinds of audits. The current practice allows for the potential — or at least the appearance — of abuse.