"Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."
Tribune Editorial: UTA’s deal to cooperate with federal investigation is good news
No, the "dark cloud" that has long hovered over the Utah Transit Authority has not been lifted.
In the short run, Tuesday's news of a non-prosecution agreement between the Utah U.S. Attorney's Office and the UTA may only validate public suspicion that some people who were at some time associated with an agency that manages a crucial part of public infrastructure around here — spending an awful lot of taxpayer and passenger money in the process — have been up to no good. That someone had been sloppy with, or misusing, public money. Or that someone had improperly moved, using insider information, to turn public money into private profit.
What is reassuring is that the U.S. Attorney's Office and UTA appear to be in agreement that whatever skullduggery may have gone on in the past is not and will not be part of the agency's culture going forward. That the feds are comfortable enough with the various reforms put in place by new management and new board members that they are now allies with, rather than adversaries of, the agency.
And that is good news for the whole of the UTA service area. Developing and managing a robust public transit agency is crucial to the area's economic and human health. And that will be difficult to impossible if the agency lacks the public faith it needs to make plans, design and run a system and, most important of all, seek funds from local taxpayers.
After a particularly harsh audit from the Utah Legislature and several changes among upper management and the governing board, the agency has been rolling out, sometimes in fits and starts, improvements in the way it does business, its transparency and its efforts to avoid conflicts of interest in such things as UTA's deals with private developers.
UTA officials tell us that the non-prosecution agreement between the agency and prosecutors, announced Tuesday, does not mean that UTA as an entity was about to be hauled into the dock. It does mean that UTA's staff and attorneys have agreed to share information, even information that would normally be covered by attorney-client confidentiality, in a way that promises to make the job of the U.S. Attorney and the FBI easier.
Exactly what the feds are looking into won't be known until, and unless, charges are brought against any individuals.
U.S. Attorney John Huber stressed in his announcement Tuesday that the probe is not over. Until it is, at least some of the dark cloud that UTA Board Chairman Robert McKinley declared dissolved will, in fact, remain.
But there is more light shining through. And the public can have some faith that any wrongdoing that did happen in or around UTA projects in the past will no longer be locked away in a deep vault, but presented to those who need to know.