Conservative and liberal join forces to introduce UTA reforms

Thursday , June 15, 2017 - 5:15 AM

MITCH SHAW, Standard-Examiner Staff

NORTH OGDEN — Though one of them was just denied a seat at the table, a conservative mayor and a liberal senator have teamed up to introduce a series of reforms at the Utah Transit Authority.

North Ogden Mayor Brent Taylor and Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, recently crafted a 10-point UTA “Taxpayer's Bill of Rights.” Taylor spearheaded the project, but recruited Dabakis’ help after the senator was nominated to serve on the UTA board.

“I’d been working on it and reached out to several other board members to see if they’d kind of co-sponsor it,” Taylor said. “I had some positive feedback, but Sen. Dabakis was the only person willing to put his name on it.”

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

In May, Dabakis was nominated for the UTA board by Salt Lake City mayor Jackie Biskupski. The Salt Lake City Council voted against his nomination on Tuesday, but the work he put in with Taylor will survive.

Taylor presented the reform document to the UTA board on Wednesday, with a motion being made to include it in ongoing strategic planning discussions and further explore each of the 10 proposals in individual sub-committees.

“I’m pretty encouraged by the response (the plan) got,” Taylor said. “I didn’t think it would go this well.”

The North Ogden mayor became a board member in February after winning a battle regarding UTA’s anti-nepotism policy. Taylor’s father works as a FrontRunner operator and the transit agency initially objected to Taylor’s appointment, made by the Weber Area Council of Governments.

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

Taylor was sworn in anyway after WACOG, several Utah lawmakers and state auditor John Dougall argued for his position. The mayor promised reform in his position, but before Wednesday has struggled to make headway with other members of the board. 

Attempts by Taylor to spur the board to publicly discuss UTA’s recent non-prosecution agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Utah, real estate policies, administrative employee bonus pay and board media policies were thwarted by board leadership. 

In a letter, UTA Vice Chair Sherrie Hall Everett accused Taylor of trying to “create tension or to score political points in the press,” and said the agency was already implementing transparency reforms. Everett later made a Facebook post that said Taylor was “pushing a huge deception of what is actually going on at the agency.”

She eventually deleted the post, but not before Taylor, who described the post as an “unhinged personal attack,” asked for her resignation.

RELATED: North Ogden mayor calls for UTA board leadership to step down

The tenor seemed to change Wednesday, with the board voting 9-1 to further consider Taylor’s and Dabakis’ plan.

The proposal doesn’t include any items related to service and deals exclusively with agency transparency and accountability.

Live-streaming meetings, matching executive compensation with equivalent positions at the Utah Department of Transportation, limiting the agency’s bonus pay program, releasing board conflict of interests publicly, instituting board term limits, revamping real estate transaction procedures and media policies, divestment of Transit Oriented Development projects, prohibiting the use of tax dollars to hire lobbyists and and axing the use of the term “quasi-governmental” are all included in the plan.

Taylor said he expects the plan to be scrutinized and modified by other board members, something he says he’ll embrace.

“The long run goal here is to rebuild public trust with the taxpayers so citizens are willing adequately fund mass transit,” Taylor said. “We’re all breathing the same (bad) air and driving on the same congested roads. Mass transit can be the remedy for some of those things.” 

The Standard-Examiner was unable to reach Dabakis on Wednesday.

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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