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Vineyard councilman raises questions on city spending, financial transparency

By Carlene Coombs - | Mar 27, 2024

Carlene Coombs, Daily Herald

The Vineyard City Council meets Wednesday, March 27, 2024.

Vineyard City Councilman Jacob Holdaway raised questions regarding city spending and his experience obtaining information as a council member since he was sworn into office this year.

Holdaway went public with his concerns during a Zoom meeting Tuesday night with city residents.

Holdaway said that since being sworn in, he has struggled to obtain financial documents from the city, adding that he still has not received the general ledger — an account of all transactions made by the city.

Jenna Ahern, Vineyard communications manager, stated that Holdaway had requested a list of vendors the city paid, the total spent and the department from which it was spent, and he was provided that. She added that, to her understanding, “he did not request a general ledger,” stating that the budget and ledger for fiscal year 2025 is still being finalized.

Holdaway said he first requested the general ledger via a phone call in December, shortly after he won the City Council election.

In a follow-up email on Dec. 1 to a city staff member regarding his request, Holdaway states his request is for the “complete 2023 spend” for the city, including vendors, boards and association memberships and reimbursements.

On Jan. 30, Holdaway again requested a breakdown of vendors, employees and associations paid for in 2023, in an email to city staff. He was provided a list of vendor names — who the city paid — but that list was without dollar amounts or descriptions.

March 18 was when Holdaway received a redacted version of the invoice registry, which contains vendor names, the amount spent and a short description of individual expenditures.

“Vineyard City is transparent about its finances,” Ahern wrote in an email. “Budget and RDA (Redevelopment Agency) information is and has always been available online. Up-to-date expenditure data was provided to Councilman Holdaway weeks ago. Statements to the contrary are untrue.”

On Tuesday night, Holdaway said he doesn’t want what he’s doing to be considered a “public attack” on anyone in the city but is about what the budget priorities are.

“As a new City Council member, I should be able to look at it (the budget) and try to advocate for a different policy in a different direction,” he said.

During the meeting, Holdaway showed an invoice register he received from the city recorder, which contained expenditures made from July 2022 through the beginning of March 2024.

There are two expenses that Holdaway specifically took issue with — Vineyard City’s membership fees to World Trade Center Utah and travel expenses to Europe for a trade mission trip with World Trade Center Utah.

According to the register, Vineyard paid $50,000 for an “Ambassador membership” to WTCU for April 2023-2024. There are two additional $50,000 charges for a two-year membership for this April through March 2026.

On the WTCU’s website, Vineyard Mayor Julie Fullmer is listed as an ambassador of the organization. Other ambassadors include the Salt Lake City mayor, Salt Lake County mayor and representatives for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Deseret Management Corp.

WTCU states its goal is “to help Utah companies increase revenue and create jobs by expanding international sales, attracting foreign investment, and facilitating international partnerships.”

According to Transparent Utah, in 2023, Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County both reported a $50,000 expenditure to WTCU.

Ahern said there are “many opportunities” that come from the city’s membership with WTCU, such as access to leaders in the state and the ability to help determine Utah’s international business strategy. It also gives the city access to “industry-specific working groups and steering committees and governor-led trade missions,” as well as other networking meetings and events.

Ahern added the mayor doesn’t receive financial compensation as an ambassador for WTCU.

Holdaway also questioned travel expenses for a trade mission trip to Europe hosted by WTCU. The invoice register lists expenses of more than $15,000, such as flights, hotels and registration fees, for two city employees to attend the conference. Fullmer did not attend, Ahern said.

Other state government leaders also attended the trade mission, including Gov. Spencer Cox, Utah Senate President Stuart Adams and state Sen. Kirk Cullimore.

According to the Deseret News, while on the trade mission, Cox signed two memorandums of understanding with the United Kingdom and France regarding economic development and investment.

The trade mission, according to WTCU’s website, happened in June 2023 in Paris and London and was organized by WTCU and the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunity.

“We don’t have a fire station. We don’t have a great library. We don’t have a lot of resources,” Holdaway said Tuesday night. “So where’s the money going?”

In an email to the Daily Herald on Wednesday, Ahern provided an excerpt of a weekly report from former City Manager Ezra Nair, who went on the trip, explaining what the employees learned on the trade mission trip.

Nair wrote that the trip allowed them to network with businesses and advocate for Vineyard as a location for expanding operations. They also got to speak with state legislators about growth, transportation, innovation and energy opportunities for Vineyard’s downtown.

Utah City, a mixed-use downtown development in Vineyard near the shore of Utah Lake, is currently under construction.

Approval for the WTCU trip happened during the Vineyard Redevelopment Agency meeting on March 8, 2023. Ahern said the city’s policy allows for the city manager to spend any amount approved as long as it is within the budget, with certain thresholds of spending that need mayoral approval or approval from the council and mayor.


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