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North Ogden Mayor Brent Taylor says the Utah Transit Authority keeps changing its rules to block his recent appointment to its board and says that is because he promised to reform the controversial agency and cut its high executive salaries.
"I feel like I am in a game of 'Calvinball' [from the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip], where the rules change whenever convenient for the UTA," he says.
Taylor has some support for his claims of improper treatment from state Auditor John Dougall, along with other mayors and a state legislator.
But UTA Board Chairman Robert McKinley says his agency is trying to block Taylor not because he is a reformer, but because his father works as a FrontRunner operator for the transit agency.
He says UTA has a historical practice to block nepotism for board members and is attempting to put that into writing now.
"Transparency and good stewardship of taxpayer funds requires the UTA board to function without conflicts of interest, actual or apparent," he wrote to The Salt Lake Tribune. The full board has scheduled a Feb. 22 vote on the new beefed-up nepotism policy. "It's not an anti-nepotism rule. It's an anti-Brent Taylor rule," Taylor says.
The saga began in January when the Weber Area Council of Governments made up of mayors and county commissioners there voted to appoint Taylor to that group's slot on the UTA Board.
"I ran on a platform of reforming the UTA, representing the taxpayers, trimming executive compensation and making the organization transparent," Taylor said in an interview.
But McKinley wrote to the Weber group saying appointment of Taylor violated policy because his father works for the agency but otherwise he would be welcome.
"They said their policy 'clearly' prevented me from serving. So I asked to see that policy," Taylor said.
He said he found existing UTA policies mirror state policy and would allow him to join the board as long as his relative was already hired and is not transferred or promoted while he is on the board. He said that is the case, and his father is near retirement.
"Then they changed course and said that it was the 'unwritten intent' of the policy that all family members be prohibited, and the chairman told me he would fire my relative if I took my board seat," Taylor said. Because of the threat, he sought an independent opinion from Dougall, the state auditor.
An email from Dougall to Rep. Justin Fawson, R-North Ogden, who requested the review, said, "I believe UTA is misinterpreting its own policy. As I understand UTA's policy there is nothing to prohibit Mayor Taylor from [serving] on the UTA board."
Dougall said UTA's current policy would prevent hiring any of Taylor's relatives if he were on the board, but doesn't apply "since Mayor Taylor's father is already employed by UTA."
Taylor said, "After this opinion, the UTA is now changing the rules again by deciding to create a new policy specifically to prevent me from going onto that board."
He said it amounts to changing the rules after the election and noted that the Weber commissioners and mayors voted a second time in February to again make clear he is their choice for the board regardless of concerns over nepotism.
Beside, Taylor said, "The accusation of nepotism is a red herring being used to distract from the political reasons that are at the heart of the effort to keep me off the UTA Board."
"I've looked into the issue, and I think he [Taylor] is just getting the runaround," said Pleasant View Mayor Toby Mileski. "He was duly elected by us, but they are trying to block that. I don't think that's right."
Fawson said he feels for UTA saying it needs to prevent nepotism to head off more public criticism. But he also has concerns about UTA changing rules after the fact to block Taylor. He said he has a meeting scheduled with UTA officials to seek solutions to the problems.
Taylor said if the sort of policy that UTA is proposing to adopt was applied to the Legislature, it "would make hundreds of thousands of Utahns ineligible to serve in the Legislature simply because they have a relative working somewhere in the massive state workforce."
Meanwhile, McKinley, the UTA chairman, issued a statement that the new policy "is not about Mayor Taylor or his father who works for UTA."
He added, "To protect the public interest, UTA has had a longstanding policy prohibiting the employment or supervision of relatives. Unfortunately, these rules occasionally exclude good people from serving on the board of trustees to avoid conflicts that may arise when someone supervises his or her relative."
He added, "In 2015, a previous board member who had served as board chair resigned out of respect for UTA's anti-nepotism policy." That was Larry Ellertson, who left when a relative sought to work for UTA but that was a new hire.
McKinley added, "Due to the current circumstances, the board is now in the process of affirming this longstanding policy" with a new written rule.