The Salt Lake County Council approved Mayor Ben McAdams’ nominees to lead the Utah Transit Authority’s governance board with a 7-1 vote on Tuesday, though some expressed unease about the two choices.
The nominations come after the Utah Legislature restructured the organization’s governance board and its funding earlier this year, with a mandate to replace the current part-time, 16-member UTA board with a full-time three-member board on Nov. 1 — an effort to bring more accountability to the agency.
“These two applicants have great credentials, but they’re very different from one another,” McAdams said of Draper Mayor Troy Walker and former Mountain Accord Program Director Laynee Jones. “So the governor will have a chance to ... hopefully put together a group of leaders who are complementary of each other.”
A committee screened seven applicants for the position and forwarded its recommendations to McAdams, who interviewed and endorsed the two nominees. Now that the council has granted its approval, the candidates’ names will go to Gov. Gary Herbert.
The three-member UTA board will be made up of representatives from Salt Lake, Davis/Weber and Utah/Tooele counties, and each is required to submit two nominees to the governor. Herbert will then choose one from each county to send to the state Senate for confirmation. He also could reject the nominations if they don’t meet his qualifications.
Nominations must be submitted by the end of this month.
In a letter sent to the council in April, the governor’s office characterized the council’s nomination process as a “unique opportunity to rebuild UTA governance through appointment of individuals that can lead public transportation into the next era.”
“Utah’s fast growing population and economy requires innovative and multimodal solutions that can meet our expanding needs and support continued economic vitality,” said the letter, which was signed by the governor’s chief of staff. “Our transportation future must include a pivotal role for transit. However, that will require confidence in and public trust of the UTA Board of Trustees and their administration.”
State audits have criticized UTA for high executive pay, extensive international travel for past executives and sweetheart deals for developers building near rail stations. Such problems were among the reasons legislators passed Senate Bill 136.
Councilman Richard Snelgrove, who was the only dissenting council vote, raised concerns that the candidates would not meet the qualifications outlined in the governor’s letter or change the status quo at the agency.
“When I look at the skill set that’s needed — and in the job description and what I see is needed to be a transformational figure at UTA — as capable as these candidates were, I find them lacking in having the skill set needed to be transformational at UTA,” he told The Salt Lake Tribune after the vote.
“We fumbled on this one,” he added, noting that he would have liked to see candidates with more business, finance and sales experience.
Councilman Steve DeBry praised both candidates’ resumes and accomplishments but also raised concerns.
Jones has long been involved in public transportation, working previously as the Utah Transit Authority network study project manager and the Provo-Orem bus rapid transit project manager.
But DeBry pointed to pending litigation about the Mountain Accord’s adherence to the state’s Open & Public Meetings Act as reason for pause on Jones’ appointment, in light of a perceived lack of transparency within UTA.
“The Mountain Accord machine is much bigger than just myself,” Jones responded, noting that she is “a very transparent person.”
Walker, an attorney, has been a UTA board member since 2012. He was a council member for Draper before he was elected as mayor.
DeBry wondered whether Walker would prioritize development in Draper above making choices for the good of the county as a whole, and said that appointing someone who had been involved in the agency in the past wouldn’t represent a “fresh start” to the public.
DeBry ultimately voted to send the candidates on to the governor, though he told The Tribune after the meeting that his conversation with the candidates “didn’t put his mind at rest.”
After the meeting, McAdams pointed to the overall support from the committee and council while looking to quell concerns that the nominees would maintain the status quo at UTA.
“They are both committed to transparency,” McAdams told The Tribune. “They’ve been advocates for a more open and transparent UTA, one that is more responsive to the public ... and I think both of them would do a stellar job of that.”
Correction: A previous version of this story listed an out-of-date title for UTA board nominee Laynee Jones. She now works as the principal and owner of LJ Consulting, an independent consultant advising local governments on transportation.