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Tribune Editorial: UTA is rolling toward a more transparent operation

First Published      Last Updated Jun 10 2017 06:07 am

The Utah Transit Authority has earned a reputation of secrecy and self-dealing. But, to its credit, new senior managers are trying to change that. While its public persona may not yet match up to senior management's newfound commitment to transparency, it isn't because they aren't trying.

According to senior management, the agency is now focused on meeting the needs of the community and providing quality services. (Customers who watch the Red Line pull out as the Blue Line pulls in may think otherwise.)

The new focus also includes integrating transit-oriented development into communities in order to increase the quality of life. In the UTA's view, revenue and ridership should not be its only focus.




There's a question to be asked about whether community development is an appropriate priority for a transportation agency. But the UTA insists it can do more than make the buses run on time.

An example of a quality of life service the UTA now offers is its new voucher program for private drivers in Davis and Weber counties who drive the elderly or people with disabilities to a destination. Call it the UTA-Uber. If the costs of these vouchers are less than para-transit services the agency is required to provide, then that's good management. UTA has combined a quality of life service with a cost-saving measure.

Yet if UTA's new customer-oriented outlook is committed to transparency, then why did it refuse to release board members' conflict of interest disclosure forms? Senior management has an answer for that, too.

UTA scoured state agencies for a model conflict of interest disclosure form it could use that would increase the detail required by self-reporting disclosure forms. It didn't find one.

UTA's General Counsel Jayme Blakesley turned to the federal government's disclosure form used for civil servants, which requires disclosure of assets, sources of income, debts, outside positions, gifts and travel. Because those forms are kept confidential at the federal level, he promised staff and board members their disclosures would be confidential, too.

But board members' conflicts of interest should be disclosed. The resolution for potential conflicts of interest is to disclose them. The UTA's failure to do so means the conflicts are never cleared as far as the public is concerned.

To its credit, UTA senior management is open to the idea of disclosing board member forms as long as staff forms are kept private. They recognize that board members, despite being appointed, act as public officials.

Utahns want transparency from the UTA. Disclosing potential conflicts, and improving the culture of self-dealing and hidden interests in development deals is a start.

 

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