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UTA reviews proposal for restructuring its committees

Published November 8, 2016 1:24 pm

Move comes after 6-month meetings hiatus amid controversy over whether they should be public.
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After a six-month hiatus in holding Utah Transit Board committee meetings — amid controversy over whether they should be open to the public — board members are now eyeing a proposal on how to restructure them.

"These meetings in fact are going to be open, even though state law may not require it," board Chairman Robert McKinley said Monday as he distributed a proposal to increase the number of committees and change how they operate.

"The function of these committees is not to make the ultimate decision," he said. "The function of the committees is to look at various alternatives, report those alternatives to the [full] board and then explain why they think one is a better choice."

Board member P. Bret Millburn, who is also a Davis County Commissioner, applauds that.

He said, "Not only does it show that the board is where the ultimate decision is made, it gives the public an idea of the complexities that are facing the agency."

UTA committees have been controversial, in part, because some had been given the power to make final decisions on select topics without a vote by the full board.

Also, McKinley said much of the in-depth discussion on issues occurred in committees, followed by little or no debate before final votes by the full board — making it appear as though the board was merely rubber-stamping staff proposals.

"People don't realize the amount of not only thought but sometimes interrogation that goes into these things" in committees, he said because "when it gets to the board level it almost seems like a perfunctory decision is made."

Even more controversial has been whether the meetings should be open to the public.

Last spring, former UTA Board Chairman H. David Burton said the board would close all its committee meetings to encourage more open discussion, and because UTA did not like Tribune coverage of the meetings.

UTA contended that was legal because no votes would be taken. Critics, including First Amendment attorney Jeff Hunt, disagreed. And Gov. Gary Herbert and Salt Lake County Councilman Richard Snelgrove pressured the board to reverse plans.

Burton eventually did reverse course, and said all committee meetings would be public. But since then, the agency generally has not held such meetings at all.

McKinley's proposal on Monday called for the board and its committees to be "honest, ethical, trusted, respected, informed."

He is proposing committees for finance and operations; stakeholder/government relations; transit-oriented communities; service and customer relations; planning and long-term vision; and audit review.

McKinley said the committees likely would be scheduled to meet monthly on the same day, but they may meet more or less often depending on need.

McKinley said board members will be asked to review the proposal, and they may discuss it more at the full board's next meeting on Nov. 16.






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