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UTA will consider a 'taxpayers bill of rights' to clean up its image

Published June 15, 2017 11:46 am

Changes would end executive bonuses, ensure all meetings are public, streamed.
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Since he joined the Utah Transit Authority board earlier this year, North Ogden Mayor Brent Taylor has constantly butted heads with other members. But they gave him general support Wednesday, spiced with some sniping, as he called for major changes.

He packaged them into what he calls the "UTA Taxpayers' Bill of Rights."

It includes ending bonuses for administrators; paying UTA executives no more than what similar officials at state agencies receive; getting UTA out of land development projects; ensuring all board meetings are open and live-streamed; and releasing board conflict-of-interest forms to the public.

He also called for limiting service of board appointees to eight years; requiring far more information on proposed land deals before the board approves them; ceasing hiring outside lobbyists; and generally running UTA as a government agency, not a quasi-governmental agency that utilizes some private business aspects.

Taylor said he is proposing the changes "because a large portion of the taxpayers do not trust this agency. And there's enough who don't to deny the funding necessary to achieve the agency mission."

He added, "We will change ourselves, or the Legislature will change the governance" of UTA. He said that is needed after scandals over sweetheart deals with developers and high executive pay led to recently ordered federal oversight of the agency.

The UTA board voted 10-1 to study in committees all the proposed changes, and whether and how to include them in a strategic plan it is preparing for UTA's future.

Board Chairman Robert McKinley said the panel already has implemented some of the changes and is working on others — but said study of the package fits in well with current work designed to improve public trust.

"I've heard some good stuff this morning," said board member Dannie McConkie, "and I'm anxious for us to take this on full speed ahead."

Others were less thrilled.

Babs DeLay, the only member who voted against further consideration of the changes, said it amounted to "opinions, and I don't agree with half of them."

Board member P. Bret Millburn, who is also a Davis County commissioner, said UTA should "stop this bickering and self-loathing" by referencing past scandals "and just move forward" with better service "and stop beating ourselves up."

Sherrie Hall Everett, co-vice chairwoman of the board and a candidate for Provo mayor, worried about proposals that called for an end of UTA involvement with transit-oriented developments (TODs).

She said they have attracted many developments that increased local tax bases and helped fund schools with higher property tax revenues. She said that should be taken into consideration — besides helping to boost transit ridership — as UTA moves forward.

UTA President and CEO Jerry Benson said the agency recently completed a draft plan on how to conduct TODs in the future and improve oversight to ensure against improper deals with developers. UTA plans to present it to the board next month.

Board member Troy Walker, Draper's mayor, also agreed that TODs are important. He added, "We talk about building trust. ... The way we build it is we just conduct our business according to the reforms, and we just move forward." He added, "It's just going to take time for people to see we have made significant changes."

Taylor's proposals come after a few rough months as he started service on the board.

He initially was denied a seat on the board. He contended that it was because he had vowed reforms of the agency to the mayors and county commissioners in Weber County who appointed him, but UTA officials said seating him would violate nepotism rules because Taylor's father is a FrontRunner train operator.

State Auditor John Dougall weighed in, saying Taylor's appointment would not violate any rules in place at the time (although the board voted to toughen them later).

After Taylor was criticized in a Facebook post by Everett, he publicly called for her resignation and that of McKinley.

Taylor told the board Wednesday that he developed the new proposals with the help of state Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, whose nomination to the board by Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski was rejected Tuesday by the City Council.

Taylor said even some council members opposing Dabakis said reform of UTA is needed — and used that as a sign that the board must make some serious changes to restore public confidence.

He noted that UTA has been warning that it cannot afford all the transit projects in long-term plans without a significant tax increase — and said defeat of Proposition 1 to raise such taxes in 2015 in Salt Lake and Utah counties shows the agency still has far to go to build trust.






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