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Brokered deal allows ‘reformer’ to join UTA despite nepotism concerns

First Published      Last Updated Feb 23 2017 08:00 pm


Members balk at new, strict policy that bans appointee conflicts but doesn’t apply to North Ogden mayor.

North Ogden Mayor Brent Taylor managed to join the Utah Transit Authority Board on Wednesday — after contending the agency tried to block him for two months because he promised to reform it and cut its high executive salaries.

UTA Chairman Robert McKinley said the board was trying to block Taylor not because he is a reformer, but because his father works as a FrontRunner train operator — and argued his appointment would violate some murky nepotism policies.

But Taylor was seated Wednesday because of a compromise brokered by State Auditor John Dougall and state Reps. Justin Fawson, Mike Schultz and Gage Froerer.



The quartet wrote to the board explaining the deal, and said Taylor should be seated because he violated no written policies in place at the time of his appointment.

The deal also allowed the UTA Board to adopt a more strict nepotism policy to clearly ban board members from having family members who work for UTA — with the understanding it would not be used to remove or block Taylor now, nor fire his father.

However, some board members balked at that part of the deal. They tabled consideration of a stricter nepotism policy for a month.

They attempted to talk about it in a closed session, but reversed course after one member — former Lt. Gov. Greg Bell — argued that would violate the Utah Open and Public Meetings Act.

All of that followed a fight that began last month when the Weber Area Council of Governments attempted to appoint Taylor to its slot on the UTA board, after he vowed to reform it, and UTA declined to appoint him because his father worked for UTA.

"They said their policy 'clearly' prevented me from serving. So I asked to see that policy," Taylor said earlier. He said he found existing policies would allow him to join the board as long as his father was already hired and is not transferred or promoted while he is on the board. Taylor's father is near retirement.

"Then they changed course and said that it was the 'unwritten intent' of the policy that all family members be prohibited, and the chairman told me he would fire my relative if I took my board seat," he said.

So the state auditor was asked to review the existing policy, and he said it did not bar Taylor nor require firing his father. Then UTA started drafting a new policy that would. The legislators and the auditor then brokered the deal used Wednesday to seat Taylor.

But some UTA board members questioned if it is fair. Troy Walker, who is also mayor of Draper, said new nepotism policies would carve out an exception just for Taylor. "If you are going to exempt Mayor Taylor, then you should exempt Mayor Walker and everyone else," he said.

"I don't feel this is an exception," Taylor said, adding he complied with policies in place when Weber County officials elected him — as did other board members when they were appointed — and the changes were proposed retroactively.

"I'm here because I was elected by the mayors and commissioners of Weber County overwhelmingly to represent our county," he said. Taylor added he was not there to help his father or for any personal benefit.

He vowed to recuse himself on any votes that could affect his father. The board also started a process to develop a conflict-of-interest policy that specifically could require Taylor to abstain on such matters affecting his father as salaries, benefits, budget line items in his area and service changes.

Still, board member Babs Delay asked what she could tell people who asked why a new nepotism policy might exempt one of its board members. McKinley suggested that the board talk about that in a closed session because it is an "employment" matter.

Bell argued that would violate open meetings laws, which allows closed meetings to discuss the "character, professional competence, physical or mental health of an individual," not how a new policy may affect board members.

UTA General Counsel Jayme Blakesley argued closed-door discussion was still allowed because the law also allows executive meetings to discuss litigation, and said the board could be sued over the new policy. But Bell said the law requires that a lawsuit actually be filed or threatened, and said UTA had not even yet adopted the new nepotism policy.

The motion for a closed meeting on the matter was dropped. Taylor attempted to speak during the debate on whether to close the meeting, but McKinley said he should not participate because it affected him. Taylor still said he believed the meeting should not be closed.

Also on Wednesday, the committee adopted new bylaws in response to a long controversy over whether its meetings should be public.

 

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