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In the wake of Tuesday's revelation by U.S. Attorney John Huber that his office promised no prosecution of the Utah Transit Authority in exchange for outside oversight into its operations and cooperation with a criminal investigation into individuals, some legislators are set to look at stronger state oversight of the agency.
Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, said the internal UTA reforms announced so far weren't good enough.
"You have to be open and transparent," Mayne said Wednesday. "They are no different than any other agency in state government. They are an arm of government."
UTA is a separate agency from the Utah Department of Transportation that is run by its own 16-member board. Those members are appointed by a wide range of local districts based on sales tax revenue and by political leaders.
Mayne pointed to bills that failed to clear the Legislature this past session that sought to rein in the agency, and she said legislators should take up the effort again despite Wednesday's agreement and the agency's past changes.
Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, earlier this year proposed adding legislative oversight of UTA's governing board by requiring Senate confirmation for members of a smaller board.
The bill was watered down before it passed both chambers unanimously. SB174 set up a task force that will examine transportation in Utah broadly before delving specifically into UTA and other agencies.
Harper said Wednesday he'd seen positive changes at the agency in recent years as it worked to enact reforms. But he said he still would look at how members are appointed to the board.
"The board composition and board appointments will still be a part of our task force discussion this summer," Harper said.
UTA was under investigation because of poor controls over federal money; improper handling and disclosure of real estate deals and poor oversight of deals with developers around transit hubs; poor ethical standards that benefited UTA employees and board members; and improper approval of executive bonuses.
That lax oversight within the agency, which executives said occurred between 2008-2014, could have allowed former UTA board members and others to misuse and benefit from public funds.
In exchange for dropping the investigation into the agency, UTA and Huber's office must agree to and hire a monitor for up to three years to review the agency's ongoing reforms. Federal prosecutors are continuing a long-running criminal probe into current and former agency board members, executives and personnel and Wednesday indicted former board member Terry Diehl, a developer.
"One of the good things for the organization about the news that's now public is that we no longer need to be as cautious about aspects of the investigation," said UTA general counsel Jayme Blakesley. "Our focus can return to transparency, public transportation and performing our operations and our business as well as we can."