UTA names temporary chief: Steve Meyer, who helped oversee expansion of its rail system

(Leah Hogsten | Tribune File Photo) Steve Meyer, a UTA engineer who helped oversee the agency's massive rail projects in past years, has been named interim director of UTA. The move requires ratification of the full board later this month. Meyer, who is retiring next year, will temporarily fill the new top spot after the Utah Legislature ordered restructuring that did away with the old positions of CEO and president. Those titles are held by Jerry Benson, who leaves UTA on May 7. This Sept. 29, 2010, file photo shows Meyer as contractors and Union Pacific workers lay FrontRunner commuter rail lines in Lehi.

Steve Meyer — an engineer who oversaw the design and construction of the FrontRunner commuter train, and helped direct expansion of TRAX light-rail lines — is the new temporary chief of the Utah Transit Authority.

The executive committee of the UTA Board named Meyer as the interim executive director Tuesday, and said it will ask the full board to ratify the decision at a meeting on May 23.

Meyer replaces current UTA President and CEO Jerry Benson. The UTA Board previously announced it is terminating Benson effective next Monday, the day before a new law, SB136, takes effect to restructure the transit agency.

The UTA Board has said its reading of the new law requires it to fire Benson because his current position disappears.

However, the legislative authors of the bill — Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, and Rep. Mike Schultz, R-Hooper — strongly disagree, and said it would allow Benson to continue for at least several more months with only a change in title.

The new law requires the scandal-tainted agency to replace the current 16-member, part-time UTA board by Nov. 1 with a new full-time, three-member commission. That new group is then allowed to choose a new permanent director for UTA.

Until then, Meyer will guide the agency.

“Steve is retiring in January. Steve is not a candidate for the permanent position of executive director,” said UTA Board Chairman Greg Bell, adding that is one reason he is being hired for the temporary job.

“We think it is not our role to pick an executive director. We’re leaving that to the new board,” Bell said — but added that Meyer is trusted and can “keep the organization moving in its current very positive direction.”

Because Meyer is not a candidate for permanent director, Bell said, “It raises him above any suspicion, and I think this sends the right message to the public that we’re not trying to handicap in any way the new board. Rather, we are tying to deliver to them … an organization that continues to function at high levels.”

Board member P. Bret Millburn, who is also a Davis County commissioner, said Meyer “is very steady. There is a calmness about him. He doesn’t get ruffled too much. What he does isn’t for self aggrandizing, he’s just the one who gets the work done.”

Meyer has been with UTA since 2002, and is currently the acting vice president for operations, capital and assets — a position he took just last month. Since 2016, he has been UTA’s capital projects director.

He was its chief capital developments officer for six years, and its manager of engineering and construction for commuter rails for eight years — when he oversaw design and construction of FrontRunner.

He has a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the University of Idaho.

Bell said Meyer’s new yet-unannounced salary will be approved by the UTA Board on May 23. The Utah transparency website reports that in 2017, Meyer’s compensation was $276,395 — including a salary of $151,818, benefits of $96,791, paid leave of $25,190 and reimbursements of $6,000.

Because of SB136, UTA is working through other changes. Its general counsel, Jayme Blakesley, is also leaving on Monday. The new law requires UTA to be represented by the Utah Attorney General’s office, but allows a transition period to work toward that.

Board Vice Chairwoman Sherrie Hall Everett — a loud critic of SB136 — also resigned before replacement by the new law.

The executive committee proposed Tuesday that Everett be replaced as vice chairwoman by trustee Gina Chamness, who is the city manager of Holladay.

The executive committee also heard a report about steps toward changing the name of UTA, as required by SB136, to the Transit District of Utah effective next Tuesday.

The agency has said that may cost up to $50 million to change signs and vehicles, but legislators said it can be done slowly over time as budgets allow and as items are replaced.

UTA staff said it took some preliminary steps for the name change including obtaining web domains such as transitdistrictutah.com, ridetdu.com and ridetdu on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube.

It is also working on a comprehensive inventory of where the UTA brand name and logo are placed throughout its system, so it knows what must be changed.

It is also developing a “scope of work” to possibly obtain an independent consultant with expertise in branding and corporate identity. The full UTA Board is expected to address that more at its meeting later in the month.

The executive committee also approved temporarily hiring in place other members of the UTA executive team, which may or may not be replaced when the new trustees take over later this year.