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Scandal-plagued former UTA chairman drops out of running for Utah transportation commission

Published June 11, 2017 3:41 pm

His exit comes after he squeaked past a hearing to confirm his skills to lead the Utah Transportation Commission.
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After a contentious confirmation hearing two weeks ago that he advanced from by one vote, Larry Ellertson withdrew his name Friday from consideration to become chairman of the Utah Transportation Commission.

At that hearing, Ellertson — former chairman of the Utah Transit Authority and the Utah County Commission — was subjected to two hours of resident complaints and grilling by legislators, and was approved by a 3-2 vote.

But some lawmakers who supported him reserved the right to oppose him in a later final vote before the full Senate as they planned to look more into questions about scandals with agencies he helped to oversee.

On Friday, Ellertson's withdrawal was announced in a short news release that said "retirement plans with his wife will make it difficult for him to fulfill the six-year commission term" for which he was nominated by Gov. Gary Herbert.

In the same release, Herbert has asked that residents interested in representing UDOT's Region 3 (Utah, Juab, Wasatch, Duchesne, Uintah and Daggett counties) on the commission to apply using materials available at boards.utah.gov. The commission oversees highway funding for the state.

"If you want scandals, he's your guy," Mark Allen, founder of Protect and Preserve American Fork Canyon, told the confirmation hearing two weeks ago, referring to scandals at UTA and the County Commission.

Some complaints by a parade of residents testifying against Ellertson focused on his service on the UTA board from 2005 to 2015. The agency has been criticized in audits and an ongoing federal investigation for sweetheart deals with developers at the time, high executive salaries and exorbitant travel by administrators.

Ellertson said he was unaware of details of such problems or occurrences when he was on the board — and even when he was its chairman for two years — and he pointed out that the board focused on general policy that managers were to implement.

"It's the business of a board member, and it's the business of a board chair, to know those things," said Sharon Anderson, of Orem.

Others attacked him for traveling to Switzerland — perhaps at the expense of Snowbird, although Ellertson said he didn't know who paid — as that ski resort was trying to gain access to land at the top of American Fork Canyon.

Allen, with a group trying to protect the canyon, said Ellertson formed a group to discuss plans for the canyon without giving public notice and fought open-records requests for information about it.

"They were advancing Snowbird's agenda in the canyon," he said. "I do not find the candidate to be a man of integrity. I find him to be a bully. ... I have seen him to be a suppressor of truth."

Others attacked Ellertson as someone who is mean to those with whom he disagrees — including over fights whether Utah County should issue bonds for a bus system in Orem and Provo.

"I have found Mr. Ellertson unwilling to work with the public, dismissive and far from transparent," said Jennifer Baptista of Pleasant Grove. "[He] has done everything he could to try to attack my character, silence my voice by using intimidation and undermining anything I attempted to do to allow for full transparency."

Ellertson, who had also served as mayor of Lindon, said opposition was coming from a relatively small group that disliked a few votes and actions he had taken in office. "Other people who do know me would give you a different view," he said, adding that he worked hard to be fair and listen while in office.







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