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If Utah Transit Authority employees are related to anyone appointed to that agency's board of trustees in the future, they will be fired, according to a new nepotism policy adopted this week.
North Ogden Mayor Brent Taylor a new UTA board member who has vowed to seek reform at the scandal-tainted agency contends the change is intended more as criticism of him than an honest attempt to improve anti-nepotism rules.
Earlier this year, the board refused to seat him for two months after his appointment by the Weber Council of Governments because his father is a FrontRunner train operator. Board members contended the relationship violated nepotism rules.
Taylor said it did not, and that the board was seeking to exclude him because he had vowed to try to reform the agency and cut high executive salaries. UTA then threatened to fire his father if Taylor insisted on taking a seat on the board.
State Auditor John Dougall weighed in on Taylor's side, finding he had violated no written nepotism rules at the time of his appointment, so Taylor was allowed to take his board seat and his father kept his job.
But all agreed that existing rules prevent his father from being transferred or promoted while Taylor serves. Existing rules also clearly prevent newly hiring someone who is related to a board member.
The board approved a new requirement that future board appointees also not be related to any existing UTA employee and that employee may be terminated if a board appointee insists on serving.
That rule is only for future appointments and will not affect Taylor, said UTA Chairman Robert McKinley.
Taylor told the board that language in the new policy aims to make "me feel that I am somehow illegitimate."
He added, "The only change this is making is to fire a relative who was already hired before their family member was on the board." He called that silly and crazy "because that person was hired completely independent from their family member."
But UTA General Counsel Jayme Blakesley told the board the change was "intended to strengthen the faith and confidence of the public in the integrity of UTA" by eliminating all nepotism.
Still, Taylor noted that a bulletin sent this month by Dougall to all local governments said that, under state law, nepotism rules need not ban employment of relatives of board members but board members should not be involved in the hiring process.
That bulletin says, "Since board members do not generally oversee day-to-day activities of employees within an entity, the [state] law appears to prohibit the hiring of relatives who directly report to the board but to otherwise allow an entity to hire such relatives."
Blakesley said he worries "that anyone who supervises or is making a promotional decision" about a board member's relative "would feel pressure" that should be avoided.
"There is an appearance of preference, if not an actual preference, given by a supervisor in most circumstances if they feel an employee they supervise has a connection to someone higher in the organization," he said. "Members of the board sit at the highest point in UTA."
Because of the state auditor's bulletin, board member P. Bret Millburn a Davis County commissioner suggested sending the new policy back to committee for more review, but was voted down 6-3, with Taylor abstaining.
The board then passed the new policy on an 8-2 vote, also with Taylor abstaining.