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One of the Utah Transit Authority Board members expected to resign amid controversy over a stealthy trip to Switzerland now says he will serve out the remaining eight months of his four-year term, but will not seek reappointment.
Justin Allen said Thursday that he reached that decision after talking to Utah Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, who appointed him to the UTA Board.
"He asked me to complete the remaining months of my term while he begins the search for a new appointment to replace me," Allen said in an email to The Tribune. His term expires in August.
Allen, governmental affairs director for the Salt Lake County Board of Realtors and a former political director of the Utah Republican Party, said he had considered resigning because his busy schedule makes it difficult for him to attend UTA Board meetings, not because of controversy over the Swiss trip.
"I am still concerned about my availability to attend the various UTA meetings required of a board member, so I will be seeking to remove myself from a couple of UTA subcommittee and external transportation committee assignments for the remainder of my term," he wrote.
He was among three UTA Board members involved in a trip to Switzerland in September to visit rail facilities and executives of a rail-car company considering starting some operations in Utah. One of the others UTA Board Vice Chairman Chris Bleak has resigned, and the third, Sheldon Killpack, is still expected to be replaced in coming weeks.
Instead of using public funds which could have revealed the trip before the public voted on Proposition 1 ballot question whether to raise sales taxes for transportation the trip used private monies. The travel was revealed only by tips and records released in response to an open-records request to the state. Travel by UTA has been controversial in recent years.
The Swiss trip was funded in part by the Utah 2040 political action committee, co-founded by Allen and Bleak. Its top donors are UTA contractors.
Bleak went on that Swiss trip (but Allen did not) along with Killpack and two UTA lobbyists, former UTA Board Chairman Greg Hughes (the current House speaker, who organized the trip), some legislators and a state business recruiter.
Despite all the UTA officials involved, the agency said it did not know beforehand about the trip. UTA had recently adopted a policy requiring board approval in a public meeting for any international travel, a step it said was aimed at avoiding controversy.
Bleak resigned last month after stories about the trip. He said his departure was to avoid conflicts of interest because of a new project by one of his lobby clients he is registered for nearly 50 and was unrelated to the trip.
The UTA Board announced Bleak's resignation after it emerged from a closed-door discussion of the Swiss trip, and UTA's general counsel said two other resignations were expected soon but declined to say from whom.
Allen and Killpack confirmed they were considering resigning, both citing reasons unrelated to the Swiss trip.
Hughes, the House speaker who appointed Killpack to the board, said Thursday as he has previously that he had started considering asking Killpack to resign weeks ago when it appeared that Prop 1 might fail in Salt Lake County, which it did.
"The problem now is there is this perception that it's related to the Swiss trip, but it is not. So I have delayed making that switch because I'm afraid that it creates a false impression," Hughes said Thursday.
"I'm not looking to make that switch right away as I had originally planned. It's due to the perception problems," he added..
Meanwhile, Hughes said, "Sheldon is ready to serve. He's never blinked. He's ready to do it."
Killpack participated in UTA committee meetings on Wednesday, although by phone and not in person. A former state senator, Killpack earlier told The Tribune that he would resign if that is what Hughes wants.
The Swiss trip also created problems with a UTA request for proposals from companies that might want to share its Warm Springs Facility, where FrontRunner commuter locomotives are maintained and repaired.
The travelers to Switzerland including Bleak and Killpack met several times with officials of Stadler Rail, which makes rail cars and was one of the companies making a bid. When UTA found out about that, it suspended the competitive process temporarily, saying that meeting might have compromised the bid selection.
However, UTA later reinstated the bidding, after banning Bleak and Killpack from participating in any discussion or votes on the possible lease.
The Governor's Office of Economic Development is expected to discuss possible incentives to attract Stadler Rail to Utah during its scheduled meeting on Thursday.