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Mayor Biskupski dismisses city's longtime UTA rep, saying he did nothing for city

Published May 1, 2017 11:25 am

Transit • Move comes as former leader says city made changes that vastly increased cost of proposed TRAX airport expansion.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

After telling him he did nothing for Salt Lake City, Mayor Jackie Biskupski asked for and received the resignation of the city's longtime representative on the Utah Transit Authority board — two years before his term would expire.

It also comes as Keith Bartholomew warns that something could undermine city arguments that UTA should pay for a $68 million TRAX expansion at Salt Lake City International Airport. He says the city converted what had been an early inexpensive proposal — agreed to by UTA — into a drastically different and costly design.

"The mayor told me that I have done nothing of value for Salt Lake City. I disagree," Bartholomew, who served 13 years on the board, said Friday.

An associate professor of city and metropolitan planning at the University of Utah, he was appointed and reappointed to UTA by former Mayors Rocky Anderson and Ralph Becker, the last time in 2015 before Biskupski's election.

He said in an interview that his role on the board is not just to fight for Salt Lake City, but to help serve all regional residents served by UTA — and he is proud of agency accomplishments.

"I take pride that there has been a 32 percent increase in ridership since 2004," he said. "I take pride that two rail lines increased to six. I take pride in the expansion of bus service" with 100 bus lines and 6,300 stops.

He said in his resignation letter, "Virtually all of that rail service and most of the bus service converges on Salt Lake City, and it has been Salt Lake City that has enjoyed many of the economic and societal benefits of the expanded UTA system."

Matthew Rojas, spokesman for Biskupski, said she sought Bartholomew's resignation for two reasons: She felt it was time for a change after 13 years, and questions arose about whether he had actually been confirmed by the City Council as required in his most recent appointments.

"We could not find any evidence of advise and consent the last couple times" in council minutes, he said, and added that UTA also had no record of it.

Bartholomew, however, said Becker's last letter to UTA certified that he had been confirmed by the council, "and that was good enough for me." However, he adds that he takes the city's word that confirmation apparently never actually happened, and the appointment was flawed.

But he also notes that state law allows a board appointee to continue to serve until replaced, so he says his board service was still legal even if glitches occurred.

Rojas said Biskupski asked the UTA board to remove Bartholomew because of the problems with his appointment, but it refused — so she asked him to resign, which he did. Batholomew said the mayor has a right to appoint whomever she wants to the board.

Rojas said the mayor is reaching out to some possible new appointees now and hopes to nominate a replacement in the next couple of weeks.

Events leading to Bartholomew's resignation began when he requested a meeting with Biskupski last week to discuss issues of concern with the city before a UTA board retreat, where it reviews issues in depth. He said that's when she expressed dissatisfaction with what he's done for the city.

Rojas confirms that to a point, saying, "The mayor wants to make sure that we have a very strong voice for Salt Lake City on the board. She has some concerns with some of the service levels the city is receiving and the commitment to the capital city."

Bartholomew said he and the mayor spoke only in passing about scandals at UTA and an agreement by federal prosecutors this month to give the agency immunity in exchange for cooperation into probes into former officials there. She was much more concerned about the TRAX expansion at the airport, he said.

The city wants UTA to extend its Green Line a half mile on elevated track to a new terminal it is building. That would cost $68 million. The city wants UTA to pay for it, but that agency is strapped for cash.

Bartholomew said he was involved in negotiations between the city and UTA when the Green Line was designed and built.

"It came down to a decision that the current [airport TRAX station] location is the right location, and that it would facilitate a pretty easy and inexpensive renovation when the new terminal building was constructed" — which is now ongoing.

He said early plans indicated "that providing the same level of service to that [new terminal] building would be a fairly easy fix," requiring just a couple of hundred yards of new track and moving ticket machines — "and that was about it."

Now, he says, new plans by the city "have us up on pylons, and the last I heard was it would cost $68 million. So it went from being a very easy, inexpensive adjustment to being a pretty drastic change. Drastic always costs a lot of money."






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