It is well known the sale of Utah Motorsports Campus to Mitime Utah, LLC was beset with problems amplified by a lawsuit from a rebuffed buyer that postponed the sale’s completion for more than three years.
But as reported in last Thursday’s edition, a new state legislative audit has further defined those problems and says the Tooele County Commission mishandled the entire process and may have cost the county $11.1 million in lost income from the final $18.55 million sale that occurred last December.
The audit also asserts the County Commission did not responsibly oversee the raceway’s finances during the sale’s postponement from 2015 through 2018. But the audit isn’t entirely negative. It says it found no evidence of improper business dealings between the County Commission and UMC, nor with companies doing business with UMC.
According to the audit, which was requested by Rep. Doug Sagers, R-Tooele, and done by the Office of the Legislative Auditor General, the County Commission may not have opened itself to criticism — and the lawsuit that halted the original $20 million offer from Mitime in 2015 — if it had followed “best practices” for selling public property.
Those best practices include the use of an appraiser to establish fair market value, publicly announce the property is for sale, listing the required contents of a qualified proposal, identifying the criteria that will be used to evaluate proposals, creating an independent panel to review proposals, and documenting the decision-making process.
In a written response to the audit, Tooele County Commissioner Shawn Milne and Tooele County Attorney Scott Broadhead, both of whom were in office during the sale process, said all of those best practices couldn’t be followed, because the County Commission chose to expedite the sale to retain the racetrack’s value and keep a key vendor from leaving UMC.
Milne and Broadhead also called the audit’s calculated loss of $11.1 million as “sensational,” and that the audit doesn’t consider the benefits of keeping UMC open during litigation, including the retention of 150 direct jobs and other indirect jobs associated with the raceway.
The audit also listed recommendations for the county to adopt. They include transparency, records retention, internal financial controls and additional audits of management practices.
Those recommendations suggest that state auditors view the county as lacking in those areas. Wisely, the County Commission has responded accountably.
“Tooele County … welcomes the audit recommendations as a means of improving our operations,” said County Commission chairman Tom Tripp. “We are actively working to adhere to all recommendations. … We acknowledge that we can always do better.”
Although the audit could be considered as a necessary rebuke, it must be noted the audit doesn’t imply or claim that laws were broken. Hindsight being 20/20, UMC’s sale could have been handled better by the County Commission. Regrettably, several million dollars from the sale had to be used to cover losses and costs associated with keeping the racetrack open for three years, in addition to a $1.55 million payout from the lawsuit.
Yet, as we wrote in an editorial last January about the sale, it’s not the deal of the century, but getting UMC off of county taxpayers’ backs is no small victory, either.