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AUDIT RAISES QUESTIONS ABOUT PLANETARIUM RAID

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Finally, the public has at least one credible answer to the question of what, if anything, of a sinister nature is going on at the Hansen Planetarium. That answer is "not much," other than some sloppy bookkeeping, according to the Salt Lake County auditor's office.

Actually, an audit released Tuesday goes a little deeper than that. It raises fairly serious concerns about practices that allowed for opportunities to steal money. But it found no evidence of a management conspiracy, or that money actually was stolen, and county officials already have implemented new procedures to make things better.All of which raises serious concerns about the propriety of Salt Lake County Attorney Doug Short's sudden raid on the planetarium last August. At the time, he said the drastic action was necessary because evidence might disappear. He talked about public misconduct, possible drug use and ticket skimming. And he named names. Now he says he still has an investigation to pursue but that the County Commission is standing in his way.

That's not quite right.

Third District Judge Robert Hilder stopped the investigation in August with a temporary restraining order, allowing District Attorney Neal Gunnarson to conduct the probe instead. In September, Gunnarson said he had finished the investigation and found nothing wrong, with the exception of a marijuana brownie one employee sold to another long ago and the possibility that folding chairs were set up to seat overflow crowds without employees keeping track of the extra ticket sales.

Then, in late September, the County Commission passed a resolution prohibiting Short from conducting any civil or criminal investigations of county officials. It was a natural reaction to Short's apparent overreaction. The district attorney or state attorney general should conduct those probes, commissioners said. They are right.

Meanwhile, Charlie Gibbs, who was acting planetarium director at the time of Short's raid, has sued Short, alleging the raid denied him due process, among other things.

All this is not to say the planetarium is a healthy, happy county agency. It has run budget deficits in four of the past six years. The audit showed cash drawers were used by more than one employee, that some event sales were not properly entered in cash registers, that cashiers were not properly endorsing checks upon receipt and that transactions were voided without documentation or approval. This is simple sloppiness, the kind that the simple financial policies of any fast-food restaurant could have prevented.

But these allegations could have been handled better, and they should have been handled by the proper authorities.