Inland Port Authority Board looks to dispel criticism over transparency and lay groundwork for decision-making

Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune Carlos Braceras, Inland Port Authority board member and Executive Director of the Department of Transportation confers with James Rogers, Salt Lake City Council member, Sept. 26, 2018. Before the Inland Port board met Wednesday, a coalition of community, environmental and civic organizations have raised a separate transparency issue, noting that the group’s proposed half-page budget lacks specificity. The coalition wants to see the board acknowledge concern within the community, provide more details about its budget and fund an investigation into potential environmental harms from development of the port.

The Inland Port Authority Board on Wednesday tried to dispel continued public criticism about a perceived lack of transparency.

The board’s monthly gathering concluded without much action and seemed mostly to set up future votes that will help it establish processes, with updates on efforts to hire an executive director, discussion of rules for conduct at meetings and consideration of a proposed $2 million budget.

“I think conversation that would have happened in the subcommittees got pushed to this board meeting,” Ben Hart, who represents the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, said after the meeting. “I thought we had really good discussion around where do we want to start to go — and I think for those who were listening in there might have been a sense of ‘these guys are really just starting out.’ That’s absolutely the case.”

The board, which is responsible for leading economic development in the inland port area, has faced criticism for its decision to shutter its three subcommittee meetings to the public and, most recently, for the lack of specificity in its half-page proposed budget.

After hearing from nine residents in a public hearing on the proposed budget Wednesday, the board voted to delay passing it until it can make “revisions and enhancements” based on the comments.

Members of the public told the board that they want to see more details about where money would be allocated and funding for an investigation into possible health, safety and environmental consequences of the port’s development.

Board Chairman Derek Miller, who attended the meeting remotely, said such studies would move forward as part of the port’s economic development plan.

Residents also raised concerns about $300,000 budgeted for “community engagement,” which they said could simply refer to the hiring of a public relations firm rather than to meaningful work with residents.

“We believe the board should shift its priorities from selling the port idea to thoroughly vetting the port idea,” said Heather Dove, president of Great Salt Lake Audubon.