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Former LDS Presiding Bishop H. David Burton was nominated Monday to become the new chairman of the Utah Transit Authority and is expected to take over next week as top shepherd of that sometimes tempest-tossed agency.
The UTA Board's executive committee nominated Burton, and the full board is scheduled to vote Sept. 24.
The board almost always follows the executive committee's recommendations on elections. In fact, the only time in memory that it did not was when it selected Burton as the board's vice chairman two years ago (when the member who was initially suggested for that spot urged Burton's election instead).
Burton would replace Greg Hughes, who is also the majority whip in the Utah House of Representatives. Hughes is running to become the new House speaker. Hughes has been UTA Board chairman for four years, and has served on the board since 2006. He said Monday he expects to leave the UTA board at the end of this year.
Burton's nomination comes just after state legislative auditors issued a blistering report against UTA last month, saying it gave developers millions in sweetheart deals, and has extravagant pay and bonuses for executives, massive debt that may hurt expanding service and a fare structure that may hurt the poor.
"It's important to address the issues raised in the audit," Burton said Monday. "In fact, most of them [auditor recommendations] are done or are in process. Those are important issues for us to continue on."
Hughes said he is staying as a board member through the end of the year to help ensure that some steps suggested by legislative auditors "have some meat put on those bones. We need to see those efforts carried through … . I feel an obligation to leave UTA and its board better than I found it, and I feel there is still work to be done."
Burton said among his priorities are seeking ways to provide the best service possible with the money available. "We can't be all things to all people. [But] certainly making our service more available to the public is paramount in everything we do."
Some legislators have pushed bills to allow raising sales tax for transit to allow expanding UTA service. When asked if seeking more funds is a priority for him, Burton said, "Not at this point in time."
He added: "That is a discussion we have to have with all of our stakeholders. We are, in a sense, a service agency and not a promoter. We want to be a good steward of the opportunities here to provide transit. Bottom line, it's the stakeholders who need to step forward" to push any tax increase.
Burton said that as UTA has finished 70 miles of new rail lines in the past seven years, "we have the blessing that we have some core facilities that are second-to-none across the country, and in the long term they are going to hold us in good stead."
UTA Board member Robert Hunter nominated Burton Monday.
"I don't know that there is a board in the state of Utah or anywhere that could be blessed with somebody with more financial background, leadership ability and acceptability in the community than Bishop Burton."
When Burton, 76, served as the LDS presiding bishop from 1995 to 2012, he oversaw the church's temporal (as compared to spiritual) operations, including buildings, welfare operations and disbursement of its tithing and other donations, as well as the massive City Creek Center development in downtown Salt Lake City.
On Monday, the UTA executive committee also nominated Chris Bleak to become the board's new vice chairman. He was chief of staff to former Utah House Speakers Greg Curtis and David Clark.
UTA is governed by a board of 16 volunteer trustees appointed by cities, counties, legislative leaders and the governor. They are paid $50 per meeting attended (for up to four meetings a month), are given free transit passes and, if needed, are provided computers to handle communication with UTA.
As Hughes prepares to step down as chairman, he said Monday: "I feel like I have a convert's zeal to UTA and its mission. I was probably critical arriving on this board, and have become a true believer … I absolutely loved every moment I have served here."