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After criticizing UTA, lawmakers advance bill requiring more transparency

First Published      Last Updated Feb 03 2017 09:15 am


Proposal would require open meetings and speedier appeals of records requests; it would bar spending on union-election consultants.

After lawmakers blistered the Utah Transit Authority for being "arrogant" and secretive, a Senate committee advanced legislation Thursday designed to make the agency more transparent.

The Senate Transportation Committee voted unanimously to endorse SB103 by Rep. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, and sent it to the full Senate.

It added an amendment to clearly require the UTA Board's committee meetings to be open to the public. In spring, the agency closed them all then reversed course under public pressure, but said it had the power to keep the meetings closed if it chose.

The bill would also speed appeals of open-records requests denied by UTA .




SB103 is also designed to block UTA from hiring what Teamsters locally call "union-busting" consultants. UTA spent $74,000 last year on such consultants to help defeat an election that could have allowed 44 TRAX supervisors to unionize.

Mayne, a former UTA board member, said that in West Valley City, "We've been asking for [more] bus service for 25 years," but are constantly told that money is not available. She said with the amount spent on the union-election consultants, "I could have a bus route out there. We are dying for bus routes."

UTA has been intentionally slow in complying with open-records requests or denied them inappropriately, she charged, and pointed to a Salt Lake Tribune request last year that ended up taking three months to find out how much UTA spent on the union-election consultants.

Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, said UTA displays "management arrogance" because of problems with open meetings and records. "The great presumption must be that every gathering, every meeting, every conversation must be open to the public."

UTA General Counsel Jayme Blakesley said UTA has enacted many reforms, and has a new board president and new top leadership. He asked for patience, and to hold off on changes for now.

"One of our clear priorities is transparency and openness," Blakesley said. "The board meetings themselves will be open. Committee meetings will be open."

But Mayne said it is time for her legislation. "The trust is not there. If they want to build that trust, we can start today."

Renae Cowley, representing the Utah Media Coalition, said that a group of newspapers and broadcast news operations also endorse Mayne's bill. "We believe it is the right thing to do for open and transparent government."

 

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