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Biskupski's UTA board nominee says the agency needs 'a cultural change'

Published July 23, 2017 6:08 pm

Transit • Alex Cragun starts off with more support than the mayor's prior appointee.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

Mayor Jackie Biskupski announced Friday that she has selected a local transit activist to represent Salt Lake City on the Utah Transit Authority board of trustees.

The mayor's choice is Alex Cragun, a founding member of the Utah Transit Riders Union, a Salt Lake City-based organization that promotes "reliable, accessible, comfortable, efficient and affordable" transit statewide according to the organization's website.

"As a transit user, Alex brings a unique voice to the UTA board," the mayor said in a statement. "Over the years, Alex has not only spoken out when he has seen troubling actions, he has taken a direct role in helping UTA focus on what matters: rider satisfaction."

Cragun told The Salt Lake Tribune that he was humbled and honored by the nomination.

"I'm an everyday transit rider and a user, and I've been a dedicated advocate over the last four years," Cragun said in a phone interview. "I know the policy and the policy issues that affect public transit."

Cragun gave a preview of his policy views when he testified to a legislative task force last month about some changes he would like to see at UTA.

"The board of UTA needs a cultural change, through and through," he said. Members, he added, need to take more seriously their oversight of how the agency spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year; he said it requires "some grave, sincere introspect for the taxpayers."

At least one member of the board should be a "designated rider," said Cragun, who constantly uses the system. He also said some members should have backgrounds in urban planning.

He called for more bus service, especially in western Salt Lake Valley. He said UTA should get out of the real estate business and direct involvement with property it owns for "transit-oriented developments."

A majority of the seven-member Salt Lake City Council would have to approve Cragun for him to join the board. He is scheduled to be interviewed Tuesday and likely will be voted on that evening.

In April, Biskupski drew criticism from the council after she removed Keith Bartholomew, an associate professor of city and metropolitan planning at the University of Utah, who had served on the UTA board for 13 years.

She then tried to replace him with state Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, but the City Council rejected his appointment, 6-1.

Cragun has more support.

"I'm really glad to hear that Mayor Biskupski decided to forward Alex," said Councilman Derek Kitchen. "I think he'll be huge asset for the city in advocating for some of our needs on the transit master plan."

While Kitchen said he had not spoken to his colleagues on the City Council since the mayor's announcement, he expressed confidence that Cragun will be confirmed.

"We were all quietly pulling for Alex in the beginning," Kitchen said.

Council members Erin Mendenhall and Charlie Luke also said they would support the new nominee.

Luke said that he admired the mayor's previous pick, but he voted against Dabakis because he did not have enough transit experience. In contrast, Cragun will bring a wealth of experience, Luke said.

"He's coming into the situation not as a neophyte to transit and not just someone who uses transit, but who understands transit policy," Luke said. "He will be effective at articulating Salt Lake City's concerns and needs and objectives."

They mayor's first choice for the UTA board also voiced support for Cragun.

"Seems like a good choice," Dabakis said in an email. "The city and the board desperately need representation with the gravitas to stand up to the big, pushy, power brokers for special interests on the UTA board."

Cragun has also been an advocate for more transparency from the UTA board.

Cragun said he hopes to work to increase transparency on the UTA board if he is approved.

In May, federal prosecutors said they would not bring charges against UTA, in exchange for the agency's cooperation with a yearslong criminal probe into former UTA board members.

Lee Davidson contributed to this report.

Lee Davidson contributed to this report.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect that Cragun is a founding member of the Utah Transit Riders Union, not the founder.






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