North Ogden mayor calls for UTA board leadership to step down

Wednesday , May 03, 2017 - 5:00 AM

CATHY MCKITRICK, Standard-Examiner Staff

OGDEN — North Ogden Mayor Brent Taylor spent his first few months as a member of the Utah Transit Authority’s Board of Trustees making waves. 

But the level of mistrust between Taylor and Sherrie Hall Everett — vice chairwoman of the UTA Board — peaked last Friday with Everett’s Facebook post slamming Taylor for “pushing a huge deception of what is actually going on at the agency.” She later deleted the lengthy post, but in Taylor’s mind, the damage had been done. He called it an “unhinged personal attack” and said it underscores the need for new leadership. 

“My brief experience with the UTA is a microcosm of what the fundamental problem is: an overly defensive agency that is self-destructively reactionary to criticism and alternative viewpoints,” Taylor wrote in a May 1 letter to fellow UTA board members.

Taylor then called for both Everett and UTA Board Chairman Robert McKinley to resign their posts and for new leadership to be elected “that will respect all members and viewpoints on the Board and will foster a climate of healthy debate, and that can lead us away from this drama to focus on what really matters: earning back the public trust.”

Everett’s rant came in response to a news story about UTA board members adopting a “tougher” nepotism policy during their April 26 meeting. The updated policy states that any employee related to someone appointed to the board will be fired. In Taylor’s case, his father has worked for the agency for several years, which came close to barring his February appointment as the Weber Area Council of Government’s (WACOG) pick to represent its interests on the UTA board. 

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

The board’s efforts not to seat Taylor failed after State Auditor John Dougall weighed in and determined that Taylor did not violate UTA’s nepotism policy at the time of his appointment, and that his father should be able to continue in his current job. But Taylor maintained the board tried to bar him because of his intent to reform the agency.

In her deleted Facebook post, Everett said the new nepotism policy simply clarified what had been historically applied. “This is not intended to HURT employees. But to argue that nepotism is OK when Board members decide matters of collective bargaining, or employment policy, service expansion, etc. is NOT the clear, bright line we are looking for.”

Everett, a candidate in Provo’s mayoral race this year, went further to question Taylor’s motives: “So what’s your game? Because those who know me KNOW that I am also a REFORMER. i just believe in doing it with integrity, transparency and respect.”

In his update to WACOG members Monday afternoon, Taylor spoke of UTA’s need to be more transparent regarding public land deals, and for the board to conduct its business in the open. The first meeting he attended in late February involved three property transactions discussed in closed sessions. While decisions were made in public, very few details accompanied those actions.

“The format was the same for each,” Taylor said, describing how a minimal description was given in the public meeting, then full discussion occurred in closed session. Upon reconvening in public, he said, someone would move to approve disposition of the property under the terms and conditions discussed behind closed doors.

“You can’t refer back to the terms of a deal in a closed meeting that the public has zero access to,” Taylor said. “That’s been a major concern for me because nothing was disclosed publicly as to what was done.”

Past UTA practices that included hefty executive bonuses and questionable land deals have done little to cultivate the public trust, and skepticism continues to plague the agency which is now under scrutiny by federal prosecutors.

In early April, UTA struck a deal with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in which prosecutors agreed not to file charges against the agency in exchange for cooperation with its investigation into possible corruption and misuse of public funds by individuals connected to the public transit authority. The agreement also requires monitoring of the agency by an independent watchdog for three years.

RELATED: Utah Transit Agency Cooperates With Federal Corruption Probe

According to board chairman McKinley, the U.S. Attorney's Office investigated actions that occurred at UTA between 2008 and 2014. A 2014 state legislative audit revealed sweetheart deals and extravagant executive compensation.

In an April 12 letter to fellow UTA board members, Taylor urged separation of powers and a system of checks and balances to restore the public trust. 

“If such checks had been in place and exercised, the abuses at UTA would never have been able to occur,” Taylor said.

But Everett — who apologized by email to Taylor and other trustees for her Facebook rant — maintains that agency reforms began well before Taylor rode in like a “white knight.”

“All Board members are committed to and engaged in efforts to address issues and improve the organization. I have appreciated the significant work of the UTA Board over the past years to put in place reforms and the strides forward that we have made to solve difficult problems — especially those that preceded many of our tenures to the Board,” Everett said.

By text Tuesday, Everett described that during a recent meeting, the board spent three hours probing and taking public comment regarding Clearfield’s transit-oriented development project.

“We slowed down the process, and are planning a meeting in Clearfield to hear from the public. We have requested information so that we can share that with the public. There has been an appraisal by Clearfield, and an appraisal by UTA on the property. We are getting a third appraisal to assess fair market value,” Everett said.

Public access to board meetings and documentation is also improving, Everett added, with online links to meeting materials and the capability to comment online as well.

“The meeting is recorded and posted to the state website. We are in final tests for our LiveStream system that we have been working on for the last six months. I’ve pushed for better document/agenda access. All these improvements have been in progress since May of last year,” Everett said. “They have full Board support. So I think the changes are well underway ... and thus my frustration. Many of the ‘reforms’ he is calling for are already completed and in action.”

Contact reporter Cathy McKitrick at 801-625-4214 or cmckitrick@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @catmck.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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