Mayor says UTA board stonewalling attempts at reform, transit agency has different view

Saturday , April 15, 2017 - 12:00 AM1 comment

MITCH SHAW, Standard-Examiner Staff

NORTH OGDEN — Brent Taylor says he joined the Utah Transit Authority board with reform in mind, but two months into his appointment he says he’s having a hard time getting any of his ideas heard.

The North Ogden mayor became a board member in February after winning a battle regarding UTA’s anti-nepotism policy. 

RELATED: N.O. Mayor Brent Taylor sworn in as UTA board member, despite nepotism policy

Taylor’s father works at UTA as a FrontRunner operator. The transit agency initially objected to Taylor’s appointment — which was made by the Weber Area Council of Governments (WACOG) — citing a potential conflict.

Taylor was sworn in anyway after WACOG, several Utah lawmakers and state auditor John Dougall argued for his position. Since that time, Taylor says attempts he’s made to reforming the agency (which revolve mostly around transparency and accountability) have either fallen on deaf ears or been stonewalled.

“I feel like as a board, we need to go above and beyond transparency to repair (UTA’s) image,” he said. “But I haven’t been able to make much traction.”

As an example, Taylor cited his failed attempt to discuss UTA’s recent non-prosecution agreement. 

Earlier this month, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Utah announced prosecutors will not to file charges against UTA in exchange for the agency’s cooperation in a federal investigation, which is examining possible corruption and misuse of public funds by former employees. 

Part of the agreement calls for UTA to be monitored by a federal inspector for three years. The inspector is tasked with sharing information about allegations of criminal activity by UTA board members, employees, contractors and consultants.

RELATED: Utah transit agency cooperates with federal corruption probe

Taylor says he wanted to discuss the agreement, UTA’s response to it and put forward proposals for better oversight and transparency.

Taylor’s suggestions included requiring UTA to publicly disclose terms of real estate deals, explicitly list all items to be voted on after closed meetings and live stream all meetings.

The mayor said he requested to be on the agenda six days prior to the April 11 meeting. He said he didn’t get any response until minutes before the meeting was to start, when board chair Robert McKinley told him to bring the matter before one of UTA’s subcommittees.

Taylor also had concerns about recent bonuses for UTA administrative employees, but was told the board meeting was not the place to discuss them. Taylor said he was told to bring up the concerns at the transit agency’s summer retreat. 

The mayor also has issues with UTA’s media policy, which discourages individual board members from speaking to the media. 

RELATED: Utah Transit Authority to change bus, TRAX, Frontrunner schedules

UTA spokesman Remi Barron said the policy is in place so there aren’t “16 different opinions” representing the board in the media.

In a letter she set to Taylor, UTA Vice Chair Sherrie Hall Everett (who’s acting chair while McKinley is out of town) accused the mayor of rocking the boat “just to create tension or to score political points in the press” and said the agency is already in the process of implementing transparency reforms.

“It is always wise to look for continual improvement,” Everett says in the letter. “But might I suggest that political grandstanding is not necessarily the way to go about it unless you are the one that wants to receive the credit.” 

Taylor says political ambition isn’t part of his reform motivation. He says as it stands now, he’s likely making more enemies than friends with his calls for reform. On Thursday, he said the only board feedback he’d received on his letter was negative.

“My only goal here is to reform, the agency to the degree where the public can trust it,” he said. “That’s the only reason I wanted to be on the board.”

You can reach reporter Mitch Shaw at mishaw@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @mitchshaw23 or like him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/mitchshaw.standardexaminer/.

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