Empey is a public finance expert for Zions Bank, which has been the bonding agent for the transit authority for years. What is more, Empey just happens to be the key witness in the scandal that erupted earlier this year in the campaign for the state treasurer's office that forced Hughes' close friend Mark Walker to resign from the Legislature.
Those close to Walker , including Hughes, have not hidden their disdain for Empey or Richard Ellis, who defeated Walker in the Republican primary this summer.
Ellis alleged in a formal complaint filed with the Lieutenant Governor's Office that Walker had offered him a job with a substantial pay raise in the treasurer's office if Ellis would drop out of the race and let Walker have the nomination.
Empey, a strong supporter of Ellis who worked with Walker at Zions Bank, was a witness to the purported illegal job offer. Walker resigned from the Legislature on the eve of a legislative ethics investigation that also would have explored the allegation that an unnamed legislative leader would make sure the position Ellis was offered would get a boost in pay. Walker is still facing a criminal investigation, although no findings have been announced by the appointed investigators from the Davis County and Weber County attorneys' offices.
Walker's supporters have said they believe that whatever conversations Walker had with Ellis were taken out of context or manipulated by Ellis and Empey for political purposes.
That was all prologue to what unfolded at the UTA board meeting when Hughes, a member of the board, faced off against Empey, the star witness for the prosecution in the Walker case who suddenly found himself at the mercy of a pit-bull questioner zeroing in on Empey's legitimacy as an adviser to the UTA.
What makes this story even better is that Hughes says the Empey factor in the whole UTA board meeting was a coincidence.
"It's true that I have been very frustrated with Carl Empey," Hughes told me last week. "But I only knew Carl Empey by his name. I didn't know what he looked like. I had seen this guy (in previous meetings) talking about some financing techniques like bond swapping and things that sounded crazy to me. So I was prepared to take him on. But I didn't know until the day of the meeting that that was Carl Empey."
Fellow UTA board member Terry Diehl also questioned why Zions has been the bond adviser for so many years and why the board shouldn't have more than one bond adviser.
Diehl is a developer who has several business interests in Hughes' legislative jurisdiction in Draper and both are cozy with the Republican Party machine in the Sandy/Draper area of Salt Lake County, so it looked to some like a tag-team attack on Empey.
But Diehl, too, said the sole motive for the cross-examination was concern about what he considered questionable advice from Empey on how to proceed on agency financing. He said he also questioned the size of the fees that Zions would receive from the suggested transactions.
"I wondered if it would be better to have more than one voice in these matters," Diehl said. "Then when Hughes started asking the same questions, that came out of left field to me."